By Melissa Butz
The beginning of the long-awaited Synod on the Amazon occurred at the Vatican in a very symbolic place.
Right above St. Peter’s tomb, nets, canoes and faces of Amazonian martyrs were present at the prayer which opened the meeting on the Amazon on October 7. All participants then processed to the synod hall, where Pope Francis opened the session. He recalled the Synod’s purpose and addressed its controversial working document.
“The Instrumentum Laboris, as you know is a ‘martyr-text,’ destined to be destroyed. From there, it is like a starting point for what the Spirit is going to do in us,” Pope Francis said.
He asked for respect for indigenous traditions, and mentioned his disappointment from the Synod opening Mass the day before. Someone had commented sarcastically on the headdress of one of the indigenous people who had brought up the offertory gifts.
He asked, “Tell me, what is the difference between wearing feathers on one’s head and the tricorn biretta used by some officers of our dicasteries?”
A bird’s-eye view of the opening Mass revealed these differences in traditions.
At one moment, Pope Francis asked both bishops and indigenous leaders for fire. He was not referring to the fires that destroyed the Amazon this past summer, but that from the Holy Spirit.
“May the Spirit, who makes all things new, give us his own daring prudence; may he inspire our Synod to renew the paths of the Church in Amazon, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn,” Pope Francis said.
This prayer will continue throughout the entire month, as bishops have been encouraged to open their minds to new ideas and pathways that could emerge from the Synod.
Two of the main controversial ideas included in the Synod are the role of women and religious sisters in the Amazon and that of ordaining married men as priests, so they could bring the sacraments to areas without any clergy.