If ‘pagan’ rites are part of Amazon synod, they’re still ‘worship of God’: synod working doc writer

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A boat carrying a wooden statue of a naked woman with child ('Pachamama') is carried by indigenous people in St. Peter's Basilica during the opening ceremony for the Amazon Synod, Rome, Oct. 7, 2019. Vatican News / video screen grab

Maike Hickson

October 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The key author of the Amazon Synod's working document, Fr. Paulo Suess, has just given an interview to Vatican News, in which he discussed the heavily criticized pagan ceremonies that have been taking place in the last two weeks in the Vatican, and conducted also in the presence of Pope Francis. With regard to the claim that some of the ceremonies with the Pope were pagan, Suess said “so what. Even if it would have been a pagan rite, then it is nevertheless a pagan worship of God.”

Among the verses sung by the cantor: "A purifying Spirit is coming now, to the heart of the people, it is coming. It is the spirit of Jesus." pic.twitter.com/ThvT5FuZ1v

— Junno Arocho Esteves (@arochoju) October 7, 2019

The German priest and theological advisor of the controversial Brazilian bishops' indigenous council CIMI is known to have been the key author of the synod's working document. His key role also stems from the fact that he is a close collaborator of Bishop Erwin Kräutler, with whom he went to the historic April 4, 2014 private audience with Pope Francis. According to Kräutler it was actually Suess who immediately talked with the Pope about the lack of priests in the Amazon region, whereupon Pope Francis asked the men to make some “bold proposals.” The Amazon Synod appears to be a final outcome of that 2014 private audience. 

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In his new October 17 Vatican News interview, Fr. Suess – who is a professor of missiology in Sao Paolo, Brazil – was asked about the fact that many Catholics were outraged at the display of Pagan ceremonies in the context of the Amazon Synod. He states that “in certain media, there is palpable a certain mood against the synod.” “When during the opening ceremony the Pope picked us and the indigenous up at St. Peter's,” he continued, “there was to be seen also a canoe boat. And then someone wrote that this is a pagan rite.” Inside the canoe was a carved wooden statue that has been the center of controversy that critics say is the “Pachamama” fertility idol. 

“So what,” was Suess's personal response. “Even if it would have been a pagan rite, then it is nevertheless a pagan worship of God.” 

A headband for #PopeFrancis, a canoe carrying Our Lady of the Amazon and posters of the Amazon martyrs as the #SinodoAmazonico opens with prayer in St. Peter's Basilica. pic.twitter.com/uBV1ww9AaT

— Catholic News Service (@CatholicNewsSvc) October 7, 2019

Interestingly, Vatican News, in its somewhat sloppy transcription of Suess' oral words, omitted here the word “pagan,” claiming Suess said that it is nevertheless a “worship of God.”

Continued Suess: “A rite always has something to do with worship of God. One cannot dismiss the pagan [rite] as nothing. What is pagan? In our big cities, we are not less pagan than those there in the jungle. One should reflect upon this.”

In additional comments that are only to be seen on the video that is attached to the Vatican News report, Paulo Suess referred to Pope Francis saying about the Amazon region that “he has this reality clearly in front of his eyes, and that is why it came to the Amazon Synod, and he supports it.”

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“He is asking for courageous proposals,” Suess continued. “Courageous proposals are that morally proven leaders of a parish, that they will be given the authority for the Eucharistic celebration, that those who have done – or do – there the pastoral work – and in most cases, they are women – that they will be sacramentally included into the Church's leadership, into the leadership of a parish.”

This way, explains the priest, the women could do the work “not because the priest is not available, but because they have been tasked with it.”

“This would be of course also a big thing for the Universal Church,” Suess states, and recalls that the synod's working document explains that the Amazon is a “pars pro toto.” That is to say, “at one place, there is going to practiced something that can be important for the Universal Church.”

But Suess does not want to wait “until the Universal Church makes a decision with regard to the viri probati or the mulieres probatae [morally proven women], but, rather, one has to try it out first at one particular place.”

The priest further quoted the Pope as saying that the next phase of the synod will be the “decentralization, in the dioceses, the decisions that are being taken here then have to be again inculturated.” The implementation of these decisions “will not be the same everywhere,” he explained. Further referring to the Pope's words, Suess said that there should be an “Amazonian face,” which means “inculturation.” Against all new forms of “neo-colonialism,” there should be an adaptation to “what we find in the culture,” Suess said. There is not one culture “that is valid for all.”

Suess suggested that the indigenous culture “will become more and more important,” if “our civilization does not destroy it.” “Where there are indigenous people, the forests are not being cut down,” he explained, adding that “our own Western civilization is coming to an end” with regard to the protection of nature. “A happy ascetical way of living” would be good for all of us, according to Suess.

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Suess also praised the spirituality of the indigenous peoples. Once, he recalled, when the Brazilian parliament wanted to make a law against the rights of the indigenous with regard to owning land, they “performed their spiritual dance, several of the tribes together, around the parliament, and then suddenly the light went off.” Since there was no light in the building anymore, the politicians could not pass the new contested law, Suess explained.

“We have often cases where the mysticism, the practiced spirituality intervenes in very concrete things,” Suess added. “Today, we understand this better with our quantum physics that our thoughts and that which is in our hearts, that this has a great influence upon the physical reality.”

Commenting on the display of indigenous symbols at the Synod and in Rome, Paulo Suess said that “one cannot copy that, one can only understand it in context.” It is thus for him important to understand these symbols in the context of the individual culture.

“As to the sacraments,” Suess continued, “every people has its own sacraments, a baptismal right when the child is born, then the passage into the adulthood, that is where the indigenous have very strict rites [which he compares with tortures],” and then “they also have their rites for the dead.”

It is striking that Suess uses the Catholic term Sacrament here in the context of pagan rites.

Moreover, Suess also argued that the indigenous people have very different ideas about time, the Eucharist, and children. The indigenous, according to him, spend much more time with their children than the people in the West, and their religious ceremonies take hours and include dancing and singing. The same applies to the Holy Eucharist.

“What the synod decides regarding the presence of the Eucharist,” Suess commented, “is dependent upon what the presence of the Eucharist means to us.” 

Here he quoted Cardinal Christoph Schönborn who told him “that in his city [Vienna], there are too many Masses on Sunday. That is for them a blessing, a gift, but then they also have to think about the question what it means for them.” Suess fears that here, the people do not value the Eucharist anymore.

“One thus should first listen to what the synod will bring forth, and perhaps this could also be a profit for the faithful in Europe,” Suess explained.

As LifeSiteNews has reported, Suess favors married priests and also of female priests.

He has also said that he regards the indigenous as the “revolutionary agents in South America,” implying that he sees their role in helping to promote a change in society.

In an interview posted on the official Vatican website for the Amazon Synod, Suess once stated: “In the end, we want to build a new society, because this capitalist society, this killing system, does not work, as Pope Francis says. How can we be announcers of life? We must change society. Who are we going to do it with? With Amazonian peoples, with indigenous people, with young people. Are we willing to build a less unequal society? That is why we have to strengthen the new paths.” 

Suess is also adversely critical of the traditional missionary activity of the Catholic Church in South America. He claimed this year: “We do not have the right to proselytize, to belittle the religion of the other or to entice [others] to conversions. The people themselves must resolve which one is the best religion for this historical moment.” 

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