Section No. 16 of the final document of the Synod on the Amazon speaks of the martyrs of the evangelization of this territory, and associates with them “those who have fought courageously in favor of an integral ecology in the Amazon.” It says: “This Synod recognizes with admiration those who fight, with great risk of their own lives, to defend the existence of this territory.
To whom does the Synod want to speak? The question arises sharply, because we have seen in the past how some South American bishops have been reinterpreting the word “martyr” by giving it a meaning different from that which the Church has used it to honor her children who died for the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Martyrs of the Past
In 1978, declared the “Year of Martyrs” by the Brazilian episcopate, three Jesuit Fathers were particularly celebrated: Roque González, Alfonso Rodrigues, and João de Castilhos. These three priests had been savagely martyred in 1628, killed with axes and burned alive in hatred of the faith. They were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1934.
But in this year of 1978, Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga wanted to associate with them thousands of Indians “martyred” by the colonial enterprise supported by the Church over the centuries. He celebrated them jointly by composing a “Mass of the Earth Without Evil,” as reported by FSSPX.News. Thus began the institution of a double celebration, parallel and equivocal.
Pope Francis joined this line. In 2017, he raised to the altars the 30 martyrs of Natal, massacred in 1645 by Dutch Calvinist soldiers in Cunhaù and Uruaçu. Section 16 of the final document refers to this incident. But the rest of the text mentions the defenders of integral ecology and the Amazonian territories. Which is it?
The Only True Missionary
Called witnesses, they are listed by the Vatican on the official page of the site devoted to the Synod on the Amazon. About thirty notices are devoted to five female religious, nine laymen including several Indian chiefs, and some priests for just over half. Three priests and two sisters are the subject of a request for canonization. Most have died a violent death. Three are still alive.
With one exception, these records only describe individuals who are brave and detached, altruistic, but not one of whom is dedicated to what the Church has always intended by being a missionary, charged with evangelizing, spreading the faith, and establishing Christianity.
The exception is the case of Sister Maria Troncatti, of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, an institute founded by St. John Bosco. She was born in 1883. Her notice is a contrast with the others: “Nurse, orthopedist, dentist, and anesthesiologist? But above all, she was a catechist and evangelizer, rich in wonderful resources of faith, patience, and fraternal love. Her work to improve the position of the Shuar woman flourishes in the hundreds of Christian families, now made by the free personal choice of the young spouses.” She died accidentally in 1969.
The Profile of the Synod "Witness"
The tone changes radically with the other notices. It is painful to read the note that the missionary accomplished “his main mission: to proclaim the Gospel to all Achuar whom he loved as his children.” When the term evangelization is sometimes encountered, it is for the most part diverted from its meaning. In fact, the qualities that have earned these individuals the distinction of being “witnesses” for the Synod on the Amazon are of another order.
The first quality is inculturation. It is the ability to assimilate and integrate Indian culture. Thus, Brother Vincente Cañas writes: “As a missionary, he went as far as possible in the work of inculturation guided by the Church. Gradually, he became one of them—he participated in rituals, fishing, planting, collecting honey, fruits and tubers, making baskets, handcrafted objects, and his own utensils. He devoted himself to learning their language.” This assimilation turns up in all the notices.
A second quality follows: anthropological work. Brother Cañas is highly praised for “writing a journal of great anthropological value of more than 3,000 pages.” Other missionaries are praised for their in-depth study of Amazon customs.
The third quality is the defense of the Indians, that is the assistance provided to the natives to help them in “the struggle and the seeking for their rights.” In particular, the efforts made to help them “to go and meet in large assemblies to discuss their cause, their problems, and especially the means of supporting themselves in the struggle for their rights” are welcomed. It is a support for a political struggle. See our article on missionary betrayal.
The fourth quality derives directly from this: the defense of the Amazonian territory. It’s about helping Indians get recognition for their ancestral lands. In that way, Fr. Rodolfo Lunkenbein died while he was working to mark the territory of Bororos. It is also to fight against all the farms putting the environment in danger, deforestation, mining, pollution, construction of dams, roads, etc. Thus it is said of Brother Paul McAuley, that “his commitment to keep the ‘common home’ was his evangelical mandate.”
Two Synod Witnesses
Two witnesses have the great merit of indicating the profound reason that mobilizes the work of these neo-missionaries.
The first comes from Sister Eugenia Lloris, a Spanish sister of the Missionary Fraternity of the Divine Word. She is part of a traveling team of missionaries in the Amazon who go out to meet indigenous peoples “to fight with them and among them for the defense of the territory, for culture and for human rights.”
She explains, “The more we integrate into their communities, the more we respect their culture and customs, the more we defend their territory, the more we experience the presence of God and feel that God does not abandon us. For me, it’s the Gospel... At first sight, it may seem that this is a “non-religious” work, but the defense of life, is it not the first Gospel we are called to live?”
Sister Eugenia continues: “The same indigenous peoples, gathered recently in a preparatory meeting for the Synod in this process of listening, affirmed that they do not want the Catholic Church to evangelize them, but that together we defend our common home, the Amazon. It must make us think, change our forms and approaches.” This is why one of the objectives of Amazonian missionaries is to contribute to the “empowerment of peoples.”
The second testimony is provided by the Capuchin Charly Azcona: “The mission in the Amazon consists of trying to think of development as from the communities themselves, where the indigenous peoples are the subjects, the actors. As Church, we also have a challenge that is the incarnation, the learning of languages, the accompaniment, the presence, a little, in all these problems. I would like to share this God of the Amazon. There is a God who lives in the Amazon, in the peoples and who is a very great force. I believe this God is the one who will help us build this family among all peoples and to respect the Amazon, the cultures. This God is alive, we feel it living in this Amazon and it is he who will give joy and happiness to so many people, and we hope that from here we can bring to the world a change in the way of life, in the economic system, and begin to build this Kingdom in the fraternity of peoples.”
False Witnesses Building on Sand
These witnesses put forward and proposed as models for the synod—and the whole Church—confirm in all respects the blindness that has stricken current missionaries, unfaithful to the mission of Christ. The supernatural has totally disappeared; the life of divine grace has been expelled; the future is earth bound. All activity is purely natural; it could as well be accomplished by a humanitarian association, or integrated into a UN program. By being kept in their false beliefs, in their pantheistic and idolatrous conceptions, not to speak of their moral depravity, the indigenous populations are in reality the object of a deep contempt. Under the guise of protecting their way of life, they are being artificially kept in their darkness, to the point of concealing from them the full light of revealed truth and the way of eternal salvation.
It is an injustice being perpetrated against them. It stems from a Pelagian conception permeating all the Indian inculturation theology, salvation without grace and without Christ, become at most an option. The particular culture has replaced Revelation. It is now the source of self-evangelism and self-redemption that makes no sense. By making a pagan culture a new Gospel that supplants the sacrifice of the Cross, the witnesses of the synod show how to build on sand. “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Ps. 126).