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A moment of ‘sheer joy’

“A moment of sheer joy”. This is how the author and theologian Gerry O’Hanlon SJ described the recent Amazon Synod last month (October 2019) hosted in Rome by Pope Francis. He was echoing and quoting the words of Fr Brendan Hoban, an Irish priest, and writer who has long worked and hoped for the implementation of Vatican II reforms in the Catholic church. Fr Hoban feels the synod was a sign they were, at last, being implemented. Gerry O’Hanlon made the remarks in an interview with  Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications in which he gave his own assessment of the synod.

The Pope had invited 180 bishops from the nine countries of the Amazon region to Rome to work on pressing issues and vote for what they considered were necessary reforms. Although only the bishops could vote they were accompanied by 80 lay auditors and it was estimated that over 87,000 Amazonian people had been previously consulted by those attending. According to Gerry O’Hanlon, this type of synodality and consultation, coming from the bottom up and from the periphery, was precisely what was envisaged at Vatican II and it has been growing in traction under Pope Francis in many countries around the globe.

In this interview, he outlines the various issues that were deliberated on and the decisions reached including the ordination of married men to the priesthood.

Ecology and care of the earth was the pressing concern, particularly as it affects the Amazon region. The rights of indigenous peoples were also discussed and the necessity of an inculturated liturgy was agreed.

Gerry O’Hanlon also speaks about the synod’s discussion of the role of women in the church. He believes that the statement of the bishops that there should be mandated ministries for men and women ‘in an equitable manner’ is most significant.  It was noted with dismay at the synod that the work of the commission on the ordination of women deacons seem to be stalled and it was agreed that this work should be continued along with promoting other ways in which women could lead local church communities. Gerry notes that the Pope has confirmed that he will re-establish the commission on the diaconate and invite new members.

The issue of the statue of Our Lady of the Amazon is also addressed. The wooden statue of a pregnant woman caused great offense t right-wing traditionalists who objected vociferously to it describing it as a pagan and idolatrous image.  Gerry believes the extreme right reacted in such a manner (the statue was actually stolen from a church and thrown into the Tiber) because they are afraid of the synodal and much more collaborative direction the church is taking.  He says the alt-right is acting like the Pharisees who in the Gospels, laid traps to try and ‘catch Jesus out’ and undermine his work.

However, this type of resistance is to be expected, he notes, especially from people who think that church tradition is unchanging, like an artifact in a museum. That is not tradition he notes, it’s traditionalism. And he quotes the church historian Jaroslav Pelikan saying, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living”.

He concludes as he began by saying that this synod is a source of hope for all the church and of joy for him personally.