The “historic” Amazonian Synod, revisited

George Weigel

Given that he was one of the principal planners and prominent leaders of last October’s special Synod on Amazonia, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, is understandably enthusiastic about the results of that exercise. Indeed, the enthusiasm of the emeritus archbishop of São Paulo and prefect emeritus of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy   seems virtually boundless: Cardinal Hummes recently claimed that “The Synod for the Amazon was historic; no previous synod was as synodal and reform-oriented as this one.” High praise indeed.

But is such fulsome applause really warranted? How does the cardinal’s claim measure up against the historical record? Not very well, I fear. Which suggests the possibility that Cardinal Hummes is reimagining the recent Catholic past in order to make certain points about the Catholic present and the Catholic future.

The 1974 Synod on evangelization was a donnybrook, reflecting the turbulence in the Church a decade after the Second Vatican Council. The synod fathers couldn’t agree on a final report, so they handed the synod’s materials to Pope Paul VI with the request that he do something. Pope Paul responded with the great apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Announcing the Gospel). It was Paul VI’s last pastoral testament to the Church and the first summons to what John Paul II would call the “New Evangelization:” the grand strategy that animates the living parts of the world Church today.

Was the Amazonian Synod more “historic” than that?

The 1990 Synod debated priestly formation and seminary reform. The propositions adopted by the synod fathers helped shape John Paul II’s 1992 apostolic exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Shall Give you Shepherds). Where it was taken seriously (as in the United States), that exhortation helped apply the brakes to the silly season in seminaries and laid the foundation for the reformed seminaries of today.

Was the Amazonian Synod more “reform-oriented” than that?

The 1994 Synod explored the renewal of consecrated religious life in light of Vatican II’s teaching on the subject. Its reflections helped John Paul II write the 1996 apostolic exhortation, Vita Consecrata (The Consecrated Life). Throughout the world Church today, religious communities of men and women that embraced Vita Consecrata are vibrant and making real contributions to the New Evangelization; those that ignored Vita Consecrata are moribund or dying.

Was the Amazonian Synod more “historic” than that?

And then there was the special Synod of 1985, which met on the 20th anniversary of Vatican II’s fourth and final session to explore what had gone right, and what had gone not-so right, in implementing the Council. Its final report’s description of the Church as a communion of disciples in mission provided the thread that wove the 16 documents of Vatican II into a coherent, compelling tapestry of Catholic faith. Like Evangelii Nuntiandi, the special Synod of 1985 was a crucial moment in the journey from Vatican II – the council Pope John XXIII called to give the Church new missionary energy – to the New Evangelization.

Was the Amazonian Synod more “historic” and “reform-oriented” than that?

As for the Amazonian Synod itself, others who were in Rome last October may remember the proceedings somewhat differently than Cardinal Hummes evidently does.

Some will remember that the roster of synod participants reflected a narrow bandwidth of Catholic opinion. Some will remember the rather stifling atmosphere within the Synod Hall, which reinforced the impression created by the synod’s managers that (to vary Orwell) some viewpoints were more equal than other viewpoints. Some will remember the extraordinary things that were said in the synod assembly and in the synod’s press conferences – including the boast by a venerable missionary bishop that he hadn’t baptized an indigenous person in 35 years. Still others will remember that Rome in October 2019 was awash in German money and full of German-financed non-governmental organization, which functioned more like political lobbies (or theatrical companies) than ecclesial communities.

Time will tell whether the special Synod for Amazonia made a significant contribution to the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the Gospel in a largely unevangelized region, or whether that synod was a stalking horse for a host of other agendas, ecclesiastical, ecological, and political. One thing only seems clear now: Querida Amazonia [Beloved Amazonia], Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation completing the synod’s work, gravely disappointed those who imagined the Amazonian Synod as the decisive pivot to the Catholic revolution they had long sought.

So one must wonder, again, just what Cardinal Hummes had in mind by describing the Amazonian Synod as “historic.”

COMING UP: Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

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In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)