Anticolonialism and Pagan Spiritualities in the Preparatory Document for the Amazon Synod

The first thing that stands out in the preparatory document for the special synod on the Amazon is its horizontal character — which also marked the Youth Synod held in Rome last October. One year later, in October 2019, the invited bishops will have to delve especially into the “pastoral and ecological conversion,” the outlines of which they are called to discern. This it is not a question of how best to bring the Redemption and salvation to the indigenous peoples of the «pan-Amazonian» basin. Above all, it is a matter of determining how the Church can contribute to safeguard their environment and biodiversity, and take into account their own “cosmovisions” and spiritualities. Here we are constantly navigating between the myth of the noble savage (these Amazon Amerindians definitely possess all possible qualities!) and denunciations of past and present colonization in the form of neo-liberal globalization – the wounds of which the Church would somehow be called to heal.  

The preparatory document of the Amazon synod came out on the Feast of the Sacred Heart

I have already analyzed the theological substratum of the preparatory document for the synod on the Amazon. It is fully imbued with «Indian theology,» which essentially consists of taking into account the native peoples of the Amazonian forest’s indigenous vision of the cosmos to affirm the Christian message. As the preparatory document shows more or less explicitly with its many references to Laudato si, this specific view of God and nature leads to a form of immanentism.

This is evident in this first particularly revealing excerpt:

“For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin, the good life comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator. Indigenous peoples, in fact, live within the home that God created and gave them as a gift: the Earth. Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders – called interchangeably “payés, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples “are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

Here we notice a second element that stands out for its absence from the preparatory document. Not only does it lack any notion of salvation, it has the perception of a pagan, pre-Christian reality strongly marked by spiritism and therefore diabolical practices peculiar to payés, mestres, wayanga or chamanes,who claim to command nature by invoking supernatural forces.

Let me invoke here the episode (as told many years ago to my father by a Dutch missionary who had experienced it in those inhospitable lands) of a priest constantly confronted with the hostility of the local sorcerer, who had amazing powers. He was able to move in an incomprehensible way, letting the good father go down the river alone only to meet him again far downstream, insulting him copiously in his native dialect … This missionary had absolutely no doubt about the existence of the devil and new what kind of evil he was trying to pry the Indians from by converting them.

Anticolonialism and Pagan Spiritualities

From the outset, the Preparatory Document makes it clear that if the October 2019 Synod Fathers are to stick to it and to the questionnaire that completes it, they will have other concerns.

“In the Amazon rainforest, which is of vital importance for the planet, a deep crisis has been triggered by prolonged human intervention, in which a “culture of waste” (LS 16) and an extractivist mentality prevail. The Amazon is a region with rich biodiversity; it is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious; it is a mirror of all humanity which, in defense of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church.”

Isn’t this revolutionary? It will require changing everyone and even the Church of Christ on a large scale, as the text makes it clear that the Amazon is an example, and what is good for it will be good for the planet.

To say that the text is full of jargon is an understatement. Recalling the simplicity of the approach of Jesus Christ, the text asks:

“How can we work together toward the construction of a world which breaks with structures that take life and with colonizing mentalities, in order to build networks of solidarity and inter-culturality?”

This «inter-culturality» entails boundless admiration for the vision of nature espoused by the Amazon Indians. Accordingly, the text adopts a pagan vocabulary and reflexes:

“In this context, it is water – through its gorges, rivers, and lakes – that becomes the region’s organizing and integrating element, with its main axis being the Amazon, the mother and father river of all.”
 
And further down:
 
For this reason, the rural peoples of the Amazonia use the resources of the floodplains, against the backdrop of the cyclical movement of their rivers – flooding, reflux, and the dry season – in a relationship of respect that grows out of knowing that “life steers the river” and that ‘the river steers life’. In addition, the peoples of the jungle – gatherers and hunters par excellence – survive on what the land and the forest have to offer. They watch over the rivers and the land, just as the land cares for them. They are the custodians of the rainforest and its resources. Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory.”

“In this context, it is water – through its gorges, rivers, and lakes – that becomes the region’s organizing and integrating element, with its main axis being the Amazon, the mother and father river of all.”
 
And further down:
 
For this reason, the rural peoples of the Amazonia use the resources of the floodplains, against the backdrop of the cyclical movement of their rivers – flooding, reflux, and the dry season – in a relationship of respect that grows out of knowing that “life steers the river” and that ‘the river steers life’. In addition, the peoples of the jungle – gatherers and hunters par excellence – survive on what the land and the forest have to offer. They watch over the rivers and the land, just as the land cares for them. They are the custodians of the rainforest and its resources. Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory.”

«The earth takes care of them»: this is the fundamental notion of the immanentist spirituality that attributes to nature a power and especially a «motherhood» which has nothing to do with divine and supernatural paternity, which in any case is not appreciated by worshipers of «Pachamama» or Mother Earth.

The synod on the Amazon will focus on Mother Earth

The Amazonian evil that the document describes is social, institutional, a fruit of the exploitation of the riches of this “primal forest” due to the above-described “extractionist mentality”. While there may be injustices, what is striking here is the leftist nature of their proposed solutions:

“Cities are also characterized by social inequalities. The poverty produced therein throughout history has generated relationships of subordination, of political and institutional violence, and of increased alcohol and drug consumption – both in cities and in rural communities. Poverty represents a deep wound in the lives of many Amazonian peoples.”

Thus, the document denounces social inequalities and subordination, which are realities but not necessarily evils, lumping them with prostitution, misery, spoliation.

Card. Baldisseri

What fascinates its authors (whose names are not given, we imagine it is the secretariat of the synod, led by the inevitable Cardinal Baldisseri) is the diversity of these primitive peoples with rudimentary beliefs:

“…390 different peoples and nationalities. … Each of these peoples represents a particular cultural identity and a specific historical richness, each with its own particular way of seeing the world and its surroundings and of relating to it out of their specific worldview and territoriality.”

Pope Francis travelled to Puerto Maldonado

The evil that strikes them bears only one name: colonization. As in liberation theology, but under a more populist than Marxist variant (the famous theology of the people dear to Pope Francis), these peoples and communities must be considered as depositories of a riches that civilized countries are lacking after centuries of Christianity:

“Today, unfortunately, traces still exist of the colonizing project, which gave rise to attitudes that belittle and demonize indigenous cultures. These attitudes weaken indigenous social structures and allow their intellectual knowledge and means of expression to be stripped away. It is frightening that still today – 500 years after external conquest, following more or less 400 years of organized mission and evangelization, and 200 years after the independence of Pan-Amazonian countries – similar vicious cycles continue to hold sway over the territory and its inhabitants, who today are victims of a ferocious neocolonialism, carried out ‘under the auspices of progress’.”  

 Outstanding amalgamations!

 Taking a curious shortcut, it then says:

“Throughout its history as a mission territory, the Amazon Basin has been filled with examples of concrete witness to the Cross, and was often a place of martyrdom. The Church has also learned that throughout this territory, which a great variety of peoples has inhabited for approximately 10,000 years, indigenous cultures are formed in harmony with the environment.”

Should we understand that the martyred missionaries, quickly greeted in passing, should have perceived the ecological wealth of those idol-worshipping peoples, including cannibals and head shrinks, under the yoke of sorcerers who called the shots as they pleased?

A key paragraph of the preparatory document for the Synod on the Amazon

A key paragraph of the preparatory document for the Synod on the Amazon comes further (paragraph 5, in the section «See»):

“The dominant culture of consumerism and waste turns the planet into one giant landfill. The Pope denounces this model of development as faceless, suffocating, and motherless, and as obsessed only with material goods and the idols of money and power. New ideological colonialisms hidden under the myth of progress are being imposed, thereby destroying specific cultural identities. Pope Francis thus appeals for the defense of cultures and for the re-appropriation of a heritage permeated by ancestral wisdom. Such a legacy advocates a harmonious relationship between nature and the Creator, and articulates the belief that “defense of the earth has no other purpose than the defense of life” (Francis, speech at Maldonado). It should be considered holy ground: “This is not an orphan land! It has a Mother!” (Francis, greeting to the population of Maldonado).

What is a «motherless development»? This confuses two levels. Note that the official French translation of the document is defective, as the Italian (and Spanish) text does not say, “it is the Mother’s land” but “She has a Mother!” It is a quotation error from Puerto Maldonado greeting, whose tone was quite different as the pope spoke explicitly and at length about the motherhood of Mary, Mother of God, precisely the opposite of the strange impression left by the document.

In chapter II, “Discernment”, which calls for “a pastoral and ecological conversion”, the document further fosters confusion between the notion of natural and supernatural, notably quoting Laudato si:

“ ‘In the paschal mystery of Christ, the whole creation tends toward its final fulfillment, when “the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise, because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence’ (LS 100).”

It further credits Amerindians with having understood this «interconnection», without underlining that it may be a confusion:
 
“This social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”

All this serves as a prelude for recommending political and religious changes – not to say revolutions. And while there is no doubt that the world is sick, here you do not learn that this is due to its rejection of God:

“Directional change, or integral conversion, is not exhausted in personal conversion. A profound change of heart, expressed in personal habits, also requires structural change, expressed in social habits, laws, and corresponding economic programs. Evangelizing efforts have much to contribute to promoting this radical change which the Amazon and the planet need, especially considering the depth with which the Spirit of God penetrates nature and the hearts of individuals and peoples.”

According to the document, this is particularly reflected as follows:

“The encyclical Laudato si’ (cf. 216 ff.) invites us to an ecological conversion that implies a new way of life. Our neighbor acquires a central position in our horizon. This involves practicing global solidarity and overcoming individualism, while opening up new paths to freedom, truth, and beauty. Conversion means freeing ourselves from the obsession with consumerism. Purchasing is a moral act, not a merely economic one. Ecological conversion means embracing the mystically-interconnected and interdependent nature of all creation. Thankfulness becomes a part of our attitudes when we understand that life is a gift from God. Embracing life through community-based solidarity entails a change of heart.”

«Mystic Interconnection»:  Here again you have confusion between the Creator and the created, a «mystical» dimension given to matter, and finally the holistic perspective of the Masonic New Age.

We finally come to the third chapter, titled “Action”, intended to find “new paths for a Church with an Amazon face.”
 

The Amazon Synod at the service of married priests and the role of women in the Church

Card. Beniamino Stella

First comes the issue of married priests (the viri probati evoked by Cardinal Beniamino Stella in January as he talked about this synod) and the role of women, which has captured media attention. It would be reassuring to see this urgent concern about access to the Eucharist were it not for the fear it is being manipulated to effect revolutionary changes in the Church. This passage must be quoted in its entirety:

“In order to transform the Church’s precariously-thin presence and make it broader and more incarnate, a hierarchical list of the Amazonia’s urgent needs should be established. The Aparecida document mentions the need for ‘Eucharistic integrity’ (DAp436) for the Amazon region, that is, that there be not only the possibility for all the baptized to participate in the Sunday Mass, but also for a new Heaven and a new Earth to take root in the Amazon Basin in anticipation of the Kingdom of God.

“In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood (cf. LG 10). This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of ‘a Church with an Amazonian face and a Church with a native face’ (Fr.PM). One priority is to specify the contents, methods, and attitudes necessary for an inculturated pastoral ministry capable of responding to the territory’s vast challenges. Another is to propose new ministries and services for the different pastoral agents, ones which correspond to activities and responsibilities within the community. Along these lines, it is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values. Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life (cf. DAp 251).”

So, according to the new standards, should one facilitate the distribution of the Eucharist in the absence of priests or even by creating priests (or ‘priestesses’) in the name of the “common priesthood”? Given the dramatic decline in the number of priests in many countries, this experiment (unacceptable as such) could be quickly adopted throughout the Church.

In passing, one learns that:

“In the Eucharist, the community celebrates an act of cosmic love, in which human beings, together with the incarnate Son of God and all creation, give thanks to God for new life in the risen Christ (cf. LS 236).”

Here cosmic love cancels out and replaces the propitiatory sacrifice that incorporates into the Mystical Body of Christ the baptized who are in the state of grace.

I have already spoken at length about everything that underpins this 15th paragraph of the preparatory document. It is essential to grasp its significance because it announces the profound changes sought by the synod:

“In the process of thinking of a Church with an Amazonian face, we dream with our feet grounded in our origins, and with our eyes open we consider the future shape of this Church, starting from its peoples’ experience of cultural diversity. Our new paths will impact ministries, liturgy, and theology (Indian theology).”

On Pope Francis’ initiative, a new construction site is opening in the Church. It promises to be just as revolutionary as the Synod on the Family and the one on Youth, working with the same methods, and with the same anthropocentric vision. Vigilance is of the essence.

Not all of the ideas in this article necessarily reflect the position of Pan-Amazon Synod Watch.