(Extracts from Joshua J. McElwee who is NCR Vatican correspondent)
In his homily for the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon region, which will continue through October 27th, Pope Francis said that while Catholic prelates are called to be prudent, they are also called to be open to the possibility of new things.
“Prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude,” the Pope told the Bishops gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica. “It is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit.”
“Rekindling our gift in the fire of the Spirit is the opposite of letting things take their course without doing anything,” said Francis, asking that God would give the prelates attending the meeting a “daring prudence … to renew the paths of the church.”
The Amazon Synod, which has been in preparation for 18 months, is expected to address a number of potentially contentious issues, including married priests, some sort of recognition for women’s ministry, and how Catholic communities in the nine-nation region can speak more vocally against rampant ecological destruction taking place there.
Although organizers have framed the event as a way for the region’s prelates to consider the unique needs of the millions of people who live in or near the world’s largest rainforest, the gathering has attracted an unprecedented level of criticism from a vocal minority of Catholics, including some cardinals.
In his 12-minute homily, Francis was markedly blunt and forthright. The Pontiff said that in their ordination Catholic bishops receive a gift of ministry that is like a fire that they are to share with others.
“A fire does not burn by itself; it has to be fed or else it dies; it turns into ashes,” said the Pope. “If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo.”
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, Francis said: “In no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the ‘ordinary maintenance’ of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community.”
“Jesus did not come to bring a gentle evening breeze, but to light a fire on the Earth,” said the Pope.