Monday, November 4, 2019

Lessons from the Amazon

Hotter-than-ever summers, melting Arctic ice, rising sea levels, widespread deforestation, wilder-than-ever hurricanes, and of course California's wildfires are all signs - not necessarily of the Second Coming but certainly of a more humanly induced kind of apocalypse. Climate Change is widely and rightly recognized as one of the defining moral issues of our era - the subject of Pope Francis' monumental 2015 encyclical Laudato Si', as well as, inevitably, a major concern of the recent Special Assembly on the Amazon of the Synod of Bishops, which met in Rome last month.

Aware of the Amazon’s critical world-wide climactic significance, the Synod highlighted how the Amazon region has been wounded and deformed by social, political, and environmental damage, with widespread consequences for human life and human societies. (Final Document 10-11: la Amazonía hoy es una hermosura herida y deformada, un lugar de dolor y violencia. Los atentados contra la naturaleza tienen consecuencias contra la vida de los pueblos. … Además, la Amazonía desempeña también un papel crítico como amortiguador contra el cambio climático y proporciona invalorables y fundamentales sistemas de soporte vital relacionados con el aire, el agua, los suelos, los bosques y la biomasa.)

Hence the need for what the Synod has called a deep personal, social, and structural conversion, a call to unlearn, learn, and relearn. (Final Document 81:  La defensa de la vida de la Amazonía y de sus pueblos requiere de una profunda conversión personal, social y estructural. La Iglesia está incluida en esta llamada a desaprender, aprender y reaprender, para superar así cualquier tendencia hacia modelos colonizadores que han causado daño en el pasado.)

The synod's Final Document spoke movingly about the historic evangelization of the region and the legacy of its martyrs. It has also spoken more controversially about some other more explicitly internal ecclesiastical issues, which have - unsurprisingly - attracted so much more attention among secular media (and Catholic Media as well). Should permanent deacons who are viri probati be ordained priests? Should there be a distinct Amazon Rite? Or, even more radically, as some have suggested, should it have its own sui juris Church along the lines of the Eastern Catholic Churches? And should whatever ecclesiological and  sacramental accommodations are made for the Amazon have any broader applicability? All these issues, of course, are for the Pope to decide. Whether he will decide or even comment on them in his forthcoming Apostolic Exhortation or in some other manner all remains to be seen. If and when he does so, we can be confident that the the implications of such reforms (or the lack thereof) will be widely commented upon and assessed, as much outside the Church as within it.

Meanwhile, the Synod calls the Church and the world to continued conversion, even while world continues to careen toward catastrophe of our own creation.

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