A Swiss Guard stands at the entrance of the Vatican hall where Pope Francis arrived to attend the opening day of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region on Oct. 7. (Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP)
Climate change, water resources, inculturation and indigenous practices were among the topics discussed during the first afternoon session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.
A few presentations also focused on the question of ordaining married "viri probati," or men of proven virtue, as one possible way to help Catholics access the sacraments in very remote locations.
During the general sessions of the Oct. 6-27 synod, bishops have a maximum of four minutes to talk about one topic treated by the synod's working document, Catholic News Service reported.
A few speeches touched on the role of viri probati, a press office summary said, adding that offering more frequent access to the sacraments where there was a lack of priests was a legitimate need. However, the summary said, such a provision could not be part of changing the essential nature of the priesthood and celibacy.
A different suggestion was to have vocational programs for young indigenous men in order to promote evangelization in remote areas so that there would not be "first-class Catholics" who have easy access to the Eucharist and "second-class Catholics" who go without the sacrament, sometimes even for two years at a time.
Another topic was the need to avoid the forms of "colonialism" that had characterized early missionary efforts, it said.
Cultural identities in the Amazon should be preserved since every culture makes its contribution to the "catholicity" of the church, which is built on respect and complementarity, the summary said.
Synod fathers recalled St. John Paul II's teachings that Christ is able to reach and "animate" the heart of every culture; some described the church as being like a complex ecosystem with "wonderful spiritual biodiversity" expressed in so many different communities, cultures, forms of religious life and ministries.
Other presentations focused on indigenous practices, which, when they are not tied to superstitious beliefs, are looked upon with "benevolence" so long as they may become in tune with "the true liturgical spirit," the Vatican summary said.
A synod member, it said, suggested collecting and sharing the different "inculturated celebrations" indigenous communities use with the sacraments of baptism, marriage and priestly ordination. Perhaps there might even be a way to establish on an experimental basis — and after appropriate theological, liturgical and pastoral study — an Amazonian Catholic rite for living and celebrating faith in Christ, someone suggested.
Some synod fathers talked about the need to protect the groundwater from chemical contaminants coming from multinational companies in the region.