ⓘ Querida Amazonia


ⓘ Querida Amazonia

Querida Amazonia is a 2020 post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, written in response to the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, held in Rome in October 2019. Focusing on the Amazon region of South America, it is addressed "to the people of God and to all persons of good will". The document is dated 2 February 2020, the liturgical feast of Candlemas, and was released by the Holy See Press Office at a press conference on 12 February. Originally written in Spanish, the exhortation was also published in English, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Polish, and Arabic. The 16.000 words of the English translation are organized into 111 paragraphs in four chapters, each of which is dedicated to a "great dream": social, cultural, ecological and ecclesial.

Prior to its official release, speculation arose that Querida Amazonia would allow the ordination of married men who are already permanent deacons viri probati, Latin for men of proven faith to the priesthood, to address a shortage of priests in the Amazon. This proposal had been called for by the final document of the synod, and approved by a majority of the bishops in attendance, in spite of the Catholic Churchs long-standing practice of clerical celibacy in the Latin Church. The exhortation does not explicitly endorse married priests, instead stating that a "way must be found" for priests to bring the Eucharist to remote areas, while also calling for women to be given greater roles in the Church, but not within the holy orders of the diaconate or the priesthood. In addition, Francis makes no mention of an Amazonian rite of the Mass, despite it also being a subject of debate at the synod, but states that efforts of inculturation should be made, to "respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols".


1. Background

On 15 October 2017, Pope Francis announced that a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops would be held in 2019, to "identify new paths for the evangelisation of this portion of the People of God", specifically indigenous peoples, in light of the "crisis" of the Amazon rainforests deforestation. The synods working document instrumentum laboris, entitled "Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology", was published on 17 June 2019. The key issues of the instrumentum laboris were the ordination of married men, the role for women in the Church, and environmental concerns. The working document drew polarized reactions among Catholics, with Peruvian cardinal Pedro Barreto saying that it "largely expresses the feelings and desires of many representatives of the Amazon people", whereas German cardinal Walter Brandmuller condemned it as "heretical" and called for it to be rejected.

More than 200 participants, including 185 voting bishops, gathered in Rome from 6 to 27 October for the synod. On 26 October, the concluding day of the assembly, the synods final document was released, including an article in which the bishops proposed that married permanent deacons be considered for ordination as priests following an "adequate formation", which was approved by a vote of 128–41, satisfying the requisite two-thirds majority for it to pass. The synodal documents conclusions were then presented to the Pope to issue an apostolic exhortation on the issues discussed.


2. Contents

Francis begins Querida Amazonia by describing the exhortation as a "brief framework for reflection" in light of the synods final document, without intending to supplant it, and urges all to read it in full. The documents introduction also sets forth the "four great dreams" that the Amazon region inspires in the Pope, which are subsequently individually explored in the four succeeding chapters.

In the first chapter, entitled "A Social Dream", Francis focuses on improving the quality of life of the Amazonian people, underscoring the need to assist the poor. He addresses the "injustice and crime" faced by such peoples, caused by industries in the rainforest such as timber and mining, and criticizes a conception of the region as a place to be developed, which does not respect indigenous rights. Moreover, the Pope also notes that outrage needs to be felt in the face of injustice and cruelty suffered by them, and asks for forgiveness for the failings of the church and wider society in the Amazon region, noting that it is possible to overcome "colonizing mentalities" with solidarity. He ends the chapter with a reflection on the "broken institutions" of civil society, and calls for dialogue to take place with the poor of the Amazon.

The second chapter of the exhortation, "A Cultural Dream", utilizes a positive approach towards indigenous peoples, emphasizing that promotion of the Amazon does not imply cultural colonialism. Describing the region as a "polyhedron", Francis deplores the exile of the indigenous from their homes into regional cities, and the subsequent loss of their cultural identities, also urging young people to assume responsibility for their roots. Furthermore, the Pope also encourages an "intercultural encounter", rejecting colonialism and indigenism, observing that a culture can "grow barren" when it isolates itself from dialogue.

The documents third chapter, "An Ecological Dream", recalls Benedict XVIs teaching on "human ecology", referencing also Franciss own encyclical Laudato si. The Pope again condemns multinational corporations and "powerful industries" for harming the Amazonian environment, and stresses the importance of water, referring to the Amazon River as the "spinal column that creates harmony and unity". Francis also highlights the need to learn from indigenous peoples, as well as a theological "prophecy of contemplation" for believers to encounter in the region. He calls for ecological teaching to overcome modern consumerism in the region, an initiative to which, he says, the Church can also contribute.

"An Ecclesial Dream", the final chapter, comprising almost half the document, examines the role of the Catholic Church in the Amazon. Francis affirms the Great Commission of preaching the gospel in order to confront the regions problems, underlining the importance of kerygma. He also explores paths of inculturation in the Amazon, to bring goodness in existing cultures to "fulfilment in the light of the Gospel", extolling pre-Columbian cultures and the tradition of Christian wisdom. Despite this, the Pope does not discuss a new Amazonian rite of the Mass, but supports the inclusion elements of indigenous culture in the liturgy. Furthermore, he calls for the Church to "offer understanding, comfort and acceptance", instead of turning people away. On the topic of priests in the region, Francis states that the process of priestly formation should be revised, but makes no mention of the ordination of viri probati in providing isolated communities access to the Eucharist. Instead, he accentuates the role of the laity in spiritual formation, while emphasizing that priests remain necessary to preside over the liturgy. In addition, Francis addresses the "strength and gift" of women, praising their role in the Amazon, but asserts that efforts to ordain them would be reductionist and lead the Church to "clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective". He underlines the traditional importance of priests being male, and provides the example of the Virgin Mary as a model for women. In briefly exploring the possibilities arising from ecumenism and "interreligious coexistence", he invites believers to seek opportunities to talk to each other. The exhortation concludes with a prayer addressed to Mary, under the title of "mother of the Amazon region".


3. Reception

Querida Amazonia drew mixed reactions from Catholic commentators, with those regarded as conservative generally approving of Franciss approach, while those considered progressives largely expressed disappointment at the lack of major announcements of changes to Church practice. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller called the exhortation a "document of reconciliation", stating that it seeks to reduce internal factions within the Church, while journalist Edward Pentin commended the Pope for not endorsing viri probati, but criticized the documents "full adherence" to the principles of liberation theology, especially that of Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, praised the exhortations focus on integral ecology, as did Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, noting that the document also addressed "issues critical to the Australian context".

On the other hand, American-born Colombian bishop Robert Herman Flock disapproved of the Popes actions, stating that he "simply kicked the can down the road". Jesuit priest James Martin noted that, while Querida Amazonia did not explicitly mention the ordination of married priests or women, such proposals may still be up for discussion due to Francis "officially presenting" the synods final document together with the exhortation. The Womens Ordination Conference, a U.S. organization advocating the ordination of Catholic women, accused the Pope of "willfully turning his back on the calls of women", while the Central Committee of German Catholics, a lay group, expressed disappointment with his "lack of courage to pursue real reforms". English writer Catherine Pepinster, meanwhile, objected to a perceived suggestion that "clericalism is automatically part of the priesthood".

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