Interview by Heather Walker, article by Laura Ieraci
ROME — The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region is a significant expression of the Church’s concern for a marginalized and little-known part of the world, said Mirticeli Dias, a journalist covering the high-profile meeting at the Vatican for the Brazilian Jesuit publication Dom total.
While the Oct. 6-27 synod has received a lot of press due to a point of discussion regarding the proposal to ordain elderly, faithful, Catholic married men to the priesthood — often referred to as “viri probati” — to address the priest shortage in the expansive territory, Dias said the real crux of the synod is a deepening of Pope Francis’ call for a Church that goes to the peripheries.
“I see (the synod) as a regard of mercy toward this region of the world,” said Dias. “Pope Francis, who is already known as the pope of mercy, is casting his gaze upon a region that needs the help of the Church.”
Dias is very familiar with the reality of the Catholic Church in the Amazon. Currently studying Church history at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, she grew up in the Brazilian province of Mato Grosso, which borders the world’s largest rainforest.
“There are many challenges for evangelization in this region, because there are many communities that are isolated, communities that receive Eucharist only once a year,” she said.
Dias expects the synod will deepen the Church’s Magisterium on ecological issues and affirm that “the Church was made for the peripheries.” She also expects the synod to help the world see and appreciate the heritage of the Amazon region for humanity.
The widely reported topic of “viri probati,” Dias insisted, “is not a main issue of the synod.”
“As regards this issue, the pope has already given his response,” she said. “He has no intention of changing the Magisterium or the discipline of the Church in this regard. However, since it has been suggested by the bishops, the pope will willingly listen to their position.”
“It could be a pastoral response that will be presented,” she continued. “But it is not a main issue, because the main theme is the evangelization of the Amazon.”
Fittingly, said Dias, the canonization of the first Brazilian-born saint, Sister Maria Rita de Souza Brito Lopes Pontes, considered the “Mother Teresa of Brazil,” Oct. 13, was planned to coincide with the synod.
The canonization is an important moment for all Brazilians, “not only for believers,” said Dias. It also brings to the fore Brazil’s Catholic roots: the holy nun was born and lived in Salvador, the former Brazilian capital, and the name of the country at its founding was the Land of the Holy Cross.
Dias addressed some of the hype and concern around the synod. The gathering is “simply a space in which the bishops, along with the pope, who is the bishop of Rome, can speak about the challenges of the Church in Brazil and South America,” she said.
“A synod is an occasion in which the Church speaks, where the Catholic Church as an institution, through its bishops and representatives of the people, speaks regarding many topics,” she said. “Therefore, we shouldn’t be afraid.”
The pope is expected to share his conclusions from the synod Oct. 27.
Mirticeli Dias is a resident assistant and leadership scholar at The Lay Centre.