Amazonia: Pope urges the Synod to be bold
Francis clearly defines the debates that will take place over three weeks.
The Synod's opening Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Oct. 6. (Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP)
Pope Francis opened the much-awaited Synod of Bishops' special assembly for the Amazon by attacking "the greed of the new colonialisms" and the "devastating fire … ignited by interests that destroy."
As he opened the gathering of bishops in Rome Oct. 6, Francis clearly defined the debates that will take place over three weeks.
Relying, as usual, on the texts of the liturgy, he exhorted the 184 Synod bishops and priests to "bold prudence," echoing in his homily the advice given by the Apostle Paul to Timothy.
Criticizing the "this is the way things have always been done" mindset and the "concern for defending the status quo," he recalled that "in no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the 'ordinary maintenance' of those who already know the Gospel of Christ."
That was a quote from Benedict XVI and was Francis' way of responding to those who referred to the former pope to justify their criticism of the Synod.
It was to "a spirit of power and love and prudence" and not to "a spirit of timidity" that Paul exhorted Timothy, Francis said.
"Prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude. It is the virtue of the pastor who … is receptive to the newness of the Spirit.
"When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and without respect, it is not God's fire but that of the world," he added.
Recalling that "the proclamation of the Gospel is the chief criterion of the Church's life, it is her mission, her identity," he therefore asked that the Spirit "give us his own daring prudence; may he inspire our Synod to renew the paths of the Church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn."
While millions of hectares of forest were burned this summer in the Amazon, Francis did not hesitate to take up the image of fire, but stressed that that of God "is the fire of love that illumines, warms and gives life, not a fire that blazes up and devours."
"When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and without respect, it is not God's fire but that of the world," he insisted for those who found the Synod's working document's call to take into account the cultures and spirituality of the Amazonian peoples an unbearable "pantheism."
Against 'fire ignited by interests that destroy'
Certainly, the Latin pomp of the Sunday morning Mass at St. Peter's did not reveal anything of Amazonian cultures, except the traditional paintings and feathers of the representatives of the indigenous peoples participating in the Synod, some of whom came with offerings.
"How many times has God's gift been imposed, not offered," Francis said. "How many times has there been colonization rather than evangelization! May God preserve us from the greed of new forms of colonialism."
Targeting the interests behind the opponents of the Synod, he warned: "The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel. The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity.
"It is fed by sharing, not by profits. The fire that destroys, on the other hand, blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas, form their own group, wipe out differences in the attempt to make everyone and everything uniform."
To the cardinals: "compassion" and "loyalty"
The day before, during the consistory for the creation of 13 new cardinals, he had already warned those who, in the College of Cardinals, were locked in an "attitude of condemnation" that "destroys."
Calling, on the contrary, for "compassion," he recalled that: "The readiness of a cardinal to shed his own blood – as signified by the scarlet color of your robes – is secure if it is rooted in this awareness of having been shown compassion and in the ability to show compassion in turn.
"Otherwise, one cannot be loyal," recalled the man who, on the plane that brought him back from Africa in mid-September, had stressed that, if he accepted criticism, it must be "loyal" and denounced "the unhealthy criticism" that came from small closed groups and generated "schism."
Before the cardinals, he once again denounced that "many disloyal actions on the part of ecclesiastics are born of the lack of a sense of having been shown compassion and … the habit of indifference."
A message reaffirmed a little later by Benedict XVI himself who, in receiving the new cardinals later in the day, insisted in a brief greeting on "the value of fidelity to the pope."
His comment was addressed to the new cardinals, but especially to the old ones who do not hesitate to claim to be against the current pope.