by Fernando Beltrán
Fr. Ignacio María Doñoro, a missionary priest in the Amazon, states: “I think that today, more than ever, in the Amazon and anywhere else in the world, what is needed is not the ordination of married people but priests in love with Christ.”
What are the major difficulties of evangelization in the Amazon?
There are no difficulties. It is wonderful to be here telling them about God, of Whom they have never heard. These people are truly hungry for God. They become deeply touched. A very funny thing happened to me in El Salvador. I said a Mass that lasted forty-five minutes. People were very angry and told me how it was too short; that they had taken hours and hours to get there only to attend such a short Mass; that they wanted to enjoy more being with the Lord and to know more [about Him]. They want me to make more comments, for the Mass to last longer. The next Mass took an hour and a half, and they also found it very short…
People here are hungry for God. Therefore, the presence of God here is very great. His words resonate in the Amazon with huge force.
Here you find communities that only have Mass once a year and are happy to receive the priest. They love priests very much! You go down the street, and everyone greets you, asks for your blessing.
I usually carry several rosaries in my pocket and give them out them throughout the day. For a priest to give them a rosary is for them a caress of God on their heart. What these people want and need are holy priests, committed in body and soul.
How have Catholics lived the recent Synod? In your opinion, did its works and document reflect the desires of the Amazonian people?
The Synod, which theoretically established a dialogue on the problems of the Amazon, has had no significance here in the Amazon Jungle. No one has spoken of the Synod. No one. They have not heard about it. People here are very poor. It is also true that at most they a TV set, but they only watch soap operas. They do not read the press or inform themselves.
In my opinion, it does not make much sense to have held a Synod only for the Amazon; and I am concerned about the fact that certain issues were raised and also how they were raised because, curiously enough, they are things that have nothing to do with the reality of the Amazon.
A few words of Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, about some of the controversies that have arisen around the Synod have personally enlightened me a lot: “I fear that some Westerners are using this assembly to advance their plans. I think particularly about the ordination of married men, the creation of women’s ministries, and the jurisdiction of the laity. These points touch the structure of the Universal Church. Taking advantage of the opportunity to introduce ideological plans would be an unworthy manipulation, a dishonest deception, and an insult to God Who guides his Church and entrusts her with his plan of salvation. Furthermore, I was surprised and outraged that they used the spiritual anguish of the poor in the Amazon as an excuse to support projects typical of bourgeois and mundane Christianity. It is abominable.”
Having been in this blessed land for ten years, first in Madre de Dios, then in Moyobamba, what I see every day is that the simple people are thirsty for God, thirsty for truth. Christ is the only Truth. They are poor but not stupid, and they like the truth. That is what they need. That is their greatest desire.
In the context of the Synod, they took ‘the Pachamama’ to Europe. To what extent is that figure related to the Amazon? What did you think when you saw the images of that strange ceremony on the Vatican gardens, where one of those figures was worshiped in front of the Pope?
I remember with emotion, before the end of the Synod, the moment when the video of some young men who entered the Carmelite church near the Vatican, where the demonic statuettes were exposed on an altar and threw them into the Tiber … I can’t help but think that my children from the Nazareth Home, who love Jesus and the Virgin Mary very much, would have felt as bad as those young men, and would certainly have been led to act similarly.
Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican’s editorial director, called those who committed these acts “vandals” and “new iconoclasts.” He said that “it [Pachamama] was not idolatry but a symbol of fertility, the earth, and the sacredness of life.” His very claims, supported by such limited concepts, showed the fragility of his arguments and left a very bitter taste.
I can say that I saw these idols for the first time in the images that came to us from Rome. I cried when I saw them in the physical heart of our Holy Mother Church, above the holy remains of Saints Peter and Paul. I was shocked, and like me, it scandalized millions of Catholics throughout the world.
I think that somehow the indigenous people of the Amazon Forest were used to attack the Catholic Faith. Furthermore, they used the lowliest, smallest and weakest people on earth to show a reality different from the one we live here. I repeat that I have not seen Pachamama or those other idols here, and I have been there for ten years.
The Catholics of this region, with whom I have spoken, felt bad to see that, which neither represents nor means anything to them. Like many of us, they feel a need to make reparation to the Heart of Jesus. The Mother of God is the only Queen of the Amazon. And this region of the Amazon is precisely named “Mother of God” in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For a Christian — and of course, for a Christian in the Amazon — there is no other God or Savior than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the virginal womb of Mary.
During the last weeks, the focus has been placed on the coming post-synodal exhortation of Pope Francis, which will gather the fruits of the synod. There are many expectations regarding this exhortation. Some have the hope – which was reflected in the final document of the Synod – that the Pope allows the ordination of married people on account of special pastoral requirements in those regions. What would you think of that measure? In your experience there, do you see that decision as necessary? Wouldn’t that argument apply to other places in the world with a shortage of priests?
I believe that, like the Church around the world, the Amazon needs holy and learned, humble and cheerful priests. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that, on one occasion, speaking with a priest, he said: “Mother, for me, Jesus is everything. I have no time or space for other affections.” And Mother Teresa understood that if that priest brought so many souls to God, it was because he was united to Him.
That is the work of the priest: bearing witness to the merciful and unconditional love of Jesus Christ, and bringing souls to God. That is, after years of study, prayer, and discernment, he is ordained to give glory to God and serve others.
The priest is the sanctifier of God’s people. Sanctifier through the sacraments that he administers, above all, Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Holy Cure of Ars, patron of priests, said something that can be shocking because he uses strong words, but says a great truth: “After God, the priest is everything! Leave a parish without a priest for twenty years, and they will worship the beasts. When you want to destroy religion, you start by attacking the priest, because where there is no priest, there is no sacrifice, and where there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.”
I think that today, more than ever, in the Amazon and anywhere else in the world, what is needed is not the ordination of married men but priests in love with Christ, with an undivided heart, which they wish to share with no one but Him.
God chooses his priests, who devote their entire life to Him, in a fiat without conditions. Christ was celibate and asked the priests to be spouses of Him and give Him the gift of our virginity, just as He wanted to give it to the Father for love of us. It is a wonder!
Bishop Rafael Escudero, a Synodal Father at the Amazon Synod, warned about the dangers of ordaining the viri probati: “Ordaining elderly married men would suppose a kind of second-class priesthood and would reduce the identity of the Catholic priest to a merely sacramental functionality. From the pastor of the community, source of advice, teacher of Christian life, the close presence of Christ, the priest would become a Mass-saying clerk.”
I think those dangers of which Bishop Escudero warns are real. The mission Christ entrusted to the priest is so great – and again, I quote the Cure of Ars – that “if he realized it, he would die. God obeys him: he says two words, and Our Lord descends from heaven. Only in heaven will one understand the bliss of saying Mass!” All of us priests have read and meditated these beautiful words hundreds of times. God has trusted us so much that He has placed Himself in our humble hands. We cannot fail Him. We cannot lower our ministry or divide it into first- and second-rate priests. God deserves it all.
Ecology was one of the issues that carried more weight in the October Synod. How do you see this problem? Do you consider it a priority? What do you think should be the priorities for the Church in the Amazon?
I will answer the first question from [the standpoint of] my reality. I have taught my children at the Nazareth Home to respect plants. The exuberance of the jungle is impressive. Nature is so beautiful that it speaks to us of God and must be respected. Therefore, taking care of our common house is important.
But here in the Amazon, along with tremendous predation of nature, there is predation of the human being. There is human trafficking; one gets to the extreme of considering one’s neighbor as an object, a woman is a possession of the male. That is why I would have liked for them to have raised this kind of issue in the Synod, and talked among other things about the dignity of women, the dignity of mothers, and how to solve many of their problems. To me, this issue seems a priority.
Earlier, I mentioned Mother Teresa, one of the great personalities in the history of mankind, who has a lot to do with the history of the Nazareth Home. She insisted heavily on the defense of unborn children. She said that something out of the ordinary happened when the Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, and the unborn child jumped for joy in the presence of Jesus. “It is very strange that God used an unborn child to proclaim the coming of Christ. We know the things that have been happening to unborn children, how their own mothers end their life! Today abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace, love, truth. Children not yet born are the poorest of the poor. They are so close to God! I always beg the doctors at hospitals in India never to kill a child. If nobody wants it, I’ll keep it.”
These words of Mother Teresa move me to act. Here many women are cheated. Too often, I find girls terrified with fear because they think they have to abort. The crime of abortion is terrible, and we are always struggling to push through a home for unborn children despite a lack of economic and human means to help young women to have their children and recover joy through love. None of them have regretted having brought their child into the world.
Another issue that I consider essential is to make a clear and firm commitment to the truth: truth in morals, truth in God’s Revelation (without sugar-coating it), truth in great debates that are emerging, to face them with courage. For example, those on gender ideology, the value of human life from conception to natural death, etc.
At the same time, and together with these great themes, it is essential to look for supernatural means such as prayer, Holy Mass, adoration, a personal encounter with the Living Christ in the Eucharist, devotion to the Virgin Mary. I believe that is what we have to do here in the Amazon and the rest of the world because the Church is universal.
Finally, I would like to give a voice to the poor. Let us not forget the neediest. The people of the Amazon, precisely because they are the poorest, deserve the best. They deserve priests entirely dedicated to their ministry, who become one with Christ with an undivided heart. That is what I believe is needed. I am not going to settle for second-rate priests because there is a need for priests. Furthermore, formation is needed. The priestly formation here lasts at least ten years, much more than in Spain. In my Prelature, an immense effort is being made for the Seminar. I think it is a good bet. That requires forming native priests, and that takes many years, a whole lot of effort, sacrifice, money, and prayer. All that is what is being done in Moyobamba, here in the Amazon, thanks be to God and to the generous commitment of many people.
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