The Synod of Bishops for the Amazon is not a “referendum” on priestly celibacy; it is looking for ways to provide for the sacramental life and formation of the people there, U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston said.
“Because one of the themes is the terrible shortage of priests in the Amazonia region, I was trying to stress that, if we want to have priests in that area, we are going to have to make sacrifices to have people who can promote vocations and accompany and train seminarians in their own milieu and their own languages,” he said he told synod participants.
“One of the things that the Holy Father held up in his comments was that he asked us to look at the problem of violence in the region. Not only the kind of violence symbolized in the pictures of all those who have been killed, but also understanding the violence to the forests themselves and its effects on the people who are there,” he wrote in a post published on Facebook.
Scarcity of priests
The National Catholic Reporter said that another topic being widely discussed, is the lack of priests.
“An indigenous woman from Guyana in our discussion group told us that there are some villages where a priest comes only once a year. She said they have laypeople performing baptisms, presiding at weddings and distributing Communion. In fact, she said she was baptized by a layperson in her village.”
“Certainly, one of the issues we have to deal with is the scarcity of ordained ministers in the region and the great need to provide for the sacramental life of the people and their formation,” the cardinal wrote. “But despite the impression that is being given in the media, the synod is not some sort of a referendum on priestly celibacy.”
Cardinal O’Malley said he told synod participants that promoting priestly vocations in the Amazon region would require “sacrifices” in the form of people and resources dedicated to accompanying and training seminarians in their context and languages.
He said a special seminary for indigenous students he visited in Verapaz, Guatemala, had to close because it had been “very under-resourced. For example, the seminarians’ families had to bring food for them.”
Despite having a large number of seminarians, the seminary closed, he said.
“I was very sad because the indigenous seminarians I had met at the major seminaries in the capital were like fish out of water. I had seen in the Verapaz seminary an opportunity to train indigenous priests in their own language and in their own cultural context,” he said. “I felt badly when the seminary closed because I knew those seminarians would never be able to attend a different sort of seminary.”