VATICAN - The «great missionary proclamation» of Querida Amazonia

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Rome (Agenzia Fides) - The Church «is called to journey alongside the people of the Amazon region» and to develop a Church with an «Amazonian face». But «for this incarnation of the Church and the Gospel to be possible, the great missionary proclamation must continue to resound». This is what Pope Francis wrote in paragraph 61 of his new Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazon), the magisterial text inspired by the work of the Synod which took place in Rome between 6 and 27 October and which ended with a text entitled The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.

The new pontifical Exhortation, published today, bears the date of February 2, 2020. In the magisterial text there are many ideas and intense passages full of suggestions regarding the missionary vocation of the Church, and its distinctive features, which make it incomparable compared to all the forms of propaganda and ideological indoctrination.
«Recognizing the many problems and needs that cry out from the heart of the Amazon region», writes Pope Francis in paragraph 62 "we can respond beginning with organizations, technical resources, opportunities for discussion and political programmes: all these can be part of the solution. Yet as Christians, we cannot set aside the call to faith that we have received from the Gospel. In our desire to struggle side by side with everyone, we are not ashamed of Jesus Christ. Those who have encountered him, those who live as his friends and identify with his message, must inevitably speak of him and bring to others his offer of new life: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)». An authentic option for the poor and the abandoned, which «motivates us to liberate them from material poverty and to defend their rights», - the Pope points out - also involves «inviting them to a friendship with the Lord that can elevate and dignify them. How sad it would be», adds the Bishop of Rome, «if they were to receive from us a body of teachings or a moral code, but not the great message of salvation, the missionary appeal that speaks to the heart and gives meaning to everything else in life. Nor can we be content with a social message. If we devote our lives to their service, to working for the justice and dignity that they deserve, we cannot conceal the fact that we do so because we see Christ in them and because we acknowledge the immense dignity that they have received from God, the Father who loves them with boundless love».
In paragraph 64, citing the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis recalls that the announcement of the Gospel is also reserved as a precious gift to the men and women of the Amazon, above all «that first proclamation, the kerygma, which is “the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another”». Without that impassioned proclamation - the Pope acknowledges - «every ecclesial structure would become just another NGO and we would not follow the command given us by Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15)».
The most surprising effect of the proclamation of the Gospel, «when it leads to a personal encounter with the Lord - writes the Pope in paragraph 65 - is fraternal charity». Indeed "The kerygma and fraternal charity constitute the great synthesis of the whole content of the Gospel, to be proclaimed unceasingly in the Amazon region. That is what shaped the lives of the great evangelizers of Latin America, like Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo or Saint Joseph of Anchieta».
Several passages of Querida Amazonia focus on the criteria and dynamics that make the processes of inculturation of the Gospel precious and indispensable also in the Amazon region. Inculturation - Pope Francis recalls in paragraph 66 also citing his recent "Letter to the Itinerant People of God in Germany" - «rejects nothing of the goodness that already exists in Amazonian cultures, but brings it to fulfilment in the light of the Gospel. Nor does she scorn the richness of Christian wisdom handed down through the centuries, presuming to ignore the history in which God has worked in many ways. For the Church has a varied face, “not only in terms of space… but also of time”. Here we see the authentic Tradition of the Church, which is not a static deposit or a museum piece, but the root of a constantly growing tree. This millennial Tradition bears witness to God’s work in the midst of his people and “is called to keep the flame alive rather than to guard its ashes”».
The authentic inculturation of the Gospel in different historical and cultural contexts - underlines the Pope, again recalling the Evangelii Gaudium - involves «a double movement. On the one hand, a dynamic of fertilization that allows one to express the Gospel in a place, since “when a community welcomes the announcement of salvation, the Holy Spirit fertilizes its culture with the transforming force of the Gospel”. On the other hand, the Church herself undergoes a process of reception that enriches her with the fruits of what the Spirit has already mysteriously sown in that culture. In this way, «the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face”».
The Pope further stresses, citing the exhortation Evangelii gaudium, «Christianity does not have simply one cultural Expression» and "we would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous». Thinking also and not only of the Amazon, the Successor of Peter recalls that «there is a risk that evangelizers who come to a particular area may think that they must not only communicate the Gospel but also the culture in which they grew up, failing to realize that it is not essential «to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be». What is needed is courageous openness to the novelty of the Spirit, who is always able to create something new with the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ».
In the Amazon, this also means recognizing the «great riches from the pre-Columbian cultures», such as openness to the action of God, a sense of gratitude for the fruits of the earth, and we should esteem «the indigenous mysticism that sees the interconnection and interdependence of the whole of creation, the mysticism of gratuitousness that loves life as a gift, the mysticism of a sacred wonder before nature and all its forms of life. At the same time - adds the Pope - we are called to turn this relationship with God present in the cosmos into an increasingly personal relationship with a “Thou” who sustains our lives and wants to give them a meaning, a “Thou” who knows us and loves us». Pope Francis recognizes that in the Amazon this inculturation, Given the situation of poverty and neglect experienced by so many inhabitants», must «necessarily have a markedly social cast». At the same time - adds the Pope also the inculturation of the Gospel in the Amazon region must «better integrate the social and the spiritual, so that the poor do not have to look outside the Church for a spirituality
that responds to their deepest yearnings» (§ 75). The Bishop of Rome also suggests recognizing and treasuring «certain features of popular Catholicism that, perhaps originally introduced by pastoral workers, are now something that the people have made their own, even changing their meaning and handing them down from generation to generation».
According to the Pope, we must not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism «certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples. Rather, we ought to know how to distinguish the wheat growing alongside the tares, for “popular piety can enable us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on». (§78). The Pope adds in paragraph 79 that «It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry. A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error». For this - the Pope underlines – A missionary of souls will try to discover the legitimate needs and concerns that seek an outlet in at times imperfect, partial or mistaken religious expressions, and will attempt to respond to them with an inculturated spirituality».
In the passages of Querida Amazonia in which the scarcity of priests operating in the Amazonian territories is taken into consideration, the Pope among other indications also exhorts "the Bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region»(§ 90).
In some paragraphs in the introductory section, Pope Francis also encourages that amid the grave excesses of the colonization of the
Amazon region, so full of “contradictions and suffering many missionaries came to bring the «Gospel leaving their homes and leading an austere and demanding life alongside those who were most defenceless. We know that not all of them were exemplary - the Pope recalls, also citing the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod - yet the work of those who remained faithful to the Gospel also inspired a legislation like the Laws of the Indies, which defended the dignity of the indigenous peoples from violence against their peoples and territories. Since it was often the priests who protected the indigenous peoples from their plunderers and abusers, the missionaries recounted that “they begged insistently that we not abandon them and they extorted from us the promise that we would return”» (§18).
At the same time - the Pope acknowledges - since we cannot deny that the wheat was mixed with the tares, and that the missionaries did not always take the side of the oppressed: «I express my shame and once more - adds Pope Francis, quoting his speech at the meeting with popular movements on July 9, 2015, during his apostolic trip to Bolivia - I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but for the crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America, as well as for the terrible crimes that followed throughout the history of the Amazon region» (§ 19). (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 12/2/2020)