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Peruvian bishop tells synod: Amazonians need evangelizers, not married priests

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

October 9, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – People in the Amazon region need evangelizers, not married priests, Peruvian Bishop Rafael Escudero told the synod on Tuesday.

Bishop Escudero serves the people of the remote prelature of Moyobamba in north-central Peru, which includes both mountainous areas and the tropical rainforests of the Amazonian basin. The bishop represented the poverty-stricken area of Peru at the Amazon Synod, and gave a speech in Rome on Tuesday to other participants. In an interview with InfoCatolica, Bishop Escudero said of the region he serves that priests are sorely stretched to serve the more than 2,700 communities in the prelature. “More spiritual, doctrinal, human, pastoral, and family formation is needed...and that is what the parishes are doing.”

As for evangelization, Escudero said that all of the parishes in the prelature are imparting catechism and giving retreats. “We have more than 1,200 organizers,” he said. As part of assistance from his native Spain, Escudero manages 32 Spanish missionary priests who have served for long stints in the prelature. 

“Every year,” Escudero said, “we baptize 3,000 adults – people who had always been close to the Church but had taken years to receive the sacrament.” Moyobamba province has approximately 122,000 inhabitants. 

Escudero said that one of his challenges is in evangelizing the indigenous Aguaruna people and that the prelature has not been able to adequately minister to them. “It would be important for evangelizers to live among them,” he said, “and therefore understand them in the midst of their culture and customs.” He told his listeners in Rome that the people of the Amazon region need evangelizers rather than married priests. He said that he hopes that they can view priests as something other than a “mere functionary of the Mass.”

Escudero told InfoCatolica that even while there is a shortage of priests in the Amazon, the controversial working document for the synod seeks the ordination of viri probati “elderly married men” (elderly married men of proven virtue). They would only administer the sacraments but be apart from “teaching and governance.” 

“As a consequence, there is a separation between the munus sactificandi, munus regendi, and the munus docendi,” he said. This is something new for the Church, given that the “hierarchical-sacramental structure of the Church is a divine mandate.” This would mean a “new vision of order that does not proceed from revelation but from the culture of Amazonian peoples who foresee ‘authority under rotation.’” 

Once the requirement for celibacy is lifted for the viri probati, he said, they would become a sort of second class of priests, while priests in general would become mere administrators of the sacraments. “The priest, instead of a pastor of a community, source of advice, teacher of Christian life, a presence close to Christ, would become a mere functionary of the Mass,” he said. 

The shortage of priests in the Amazon region, Escudero said, is indeed a challenge: “The Church exists to evangelize, as St. Paul VI recalled in Evangeli nuntiandi. The first goal of the synod should be to find out how, with all due respect, how can we evangelize those who do not know Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and who are living without an answer to the great questions of humanity. We should not forget that the majority of the people of Amazonia are not Catholic: they are therefore living deprived of the knowledge of the infinite love who is Jesus Christ.”

“It is urgent to deeply evangelize by sending the best priests, religious, and lay people from dioceses and religious congregations who have the most pastors. An evangelization that preaches Jesus Christ as the sole Saviour of mankind, of nations and cultures, and create communities where the proven Catholic faith is lived intensely,” Escudero said. 

Escudero called on his fellow bishops to work harder on training catechists and pastoral workers, saying, “From a people that has been evangelized and well formed there will come charisms and from among these will come celibacy for the priesthood.” 

“While there is a lack of the Eucharist in Amazonia and many other places in the world, there is no lack of vocations and priests in the dioceses and religious congregations who are trained in the wise doctrine of the Church and live an authentically Christian spirituality,” he added. “There are too many bishops and priests” who work in administration and academia. 

“It is time...to dedicate ourselves to more prayer and preaching of the Word.”

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