This coming October, His Holiness, Pope Francis, will convoke the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. It will be held at the Vatican from October 6-27. The purpose of the synod is “to identify new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region.”
In a particular way, these Synodal Fathers are going to discuss the plight of indigenous people who are often maltreated and who live in extreme poverty.
What makes this a particularly difficult subject is the fact that the land covered is vast, with a population that speaks more than 240 languages. In most of the region, the main religion is Catholic.
The Holy Father has a particular interest in this synod, because it not only involves “neighbors” of his native country of Argentina, but also Brazil was the site of his first World Youth Day in July 2013.
The key themes that the synod hopes to explore include the role of women, the rights and traditions of the native population and greater access to the Holy Eucharist. Those notions were identified in a preparatory document from June 2018.
Care for the environment is also a topic that will be explored. These themes could have some important implications for the church, not only in the Amazon, but also for the entire world.
The reality in the Pan-Amazonian region is that there is a tremendous shortage of priests. While Pope Francis clearly stated that clerical celibacy is the norm of ordained priests in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and reaffirmed the eschatological and spiritual value of chaste celibacy for the priesthood, he also opined that he would be open to, if the local bishops wanted, older, established men already married, or as they are called the “viri probati,” the “proven men,” being ordained to the priesthood. These men would not be permanent deacons, but would be ordained, sacramental priests who would celebrate the Eucharist.
In all of the discussions, it is clear that this initiative is only for the Pan-Amazon region. But it may be permitted in other parts of the world, if national episcopal conferences deem it necessary.
It is also worth noting that the concept of viri probati is not speaking about convert clergymen who were already ministers of another Christian faith and were ordained to the priesthood as married clergymen, nor does this mean that men ordained priests who have since left the ministry to marry would be permitted back to sacramental ministry.