Who’s going to the Synod – a look at the list

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The Holy See today released the full list of participants of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, to take place from 6 to 27 October in Rome. The assembly, which has been the subject of much discussion, hopes and fears over the past months, will discuss the problems faced by the Church in the Amazon region and try to find specific solutions with an eye on both the availability of the sacraments to the faithful there and the threats faced by people and environment in that area. Solutions which the synod assembly may arrive at could, some fear, then be applied globally. The topic of mandatory celibacy for priests has received special attention, as more than a few have suggested that the Synod could allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood so as to relieve that shortage of priests in the Amazon region. The theological and ecclesiastical repercussions, some fear, could have global consequences.

Apart from the usual suspects, such as the heads of the dicasteries of the curia and religious elected by the Union of Superior Generals, the majority of participants are bishops and priests from the Amazon region. Countries represented are Guyana*, Suriname*, French Guiana*, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

As ever, there will also be a number of ‘fraternal delegates’ representing other Christian church communities. In this case, the Presbyterian, Evangelical, Anglican and Lutheran churches and the Assembly of God. Other special invitations were issued to a number of lay experts including former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

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Pope Francis has also selected a number of personal appointments. These include a number of cardinals who have long been considered his closest collaborators, such as Cardinals Maradiaga, Gracias and Marx.  He has also added three prelates who will be made cardinals on October 4th, just days before the assembly opens: Archbishops Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa and Hollerich of Luxembourg (at left), and Fr. Czerny of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who also serves as one of the two special secretaries of the Synod assembly.

Bishop-Cheonnie-1-300x225Also of note is the role of Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo (at right). As his diocese, which covers all of Suriname, is included in the pan-Amazon region, he is an automatic participant, but he has also served on the Presynodal Council, which was tasked with the preparations for the upcoming assembly. Another member of this body is Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the Austrian-born bishop-prelate emeritus of Xingu in Brazil. The 80-year-old prelate presents himself as a close confidant of Pope Francis, but he also supports a number of problematic changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

Lastly, while the list of participants makes clear that this special assembly is very much localised – devoted to a specific area, led by people from that area – there are some connections to the wider world. In the first place to Rome of course, with the curia involved as they are in every Synod assembly. Other continents are also represented however. Among the pontifical appointments, Europe stands out, mostly because of the presence of Italian prelates. And these are not only members of the curia, but also ordinaries of Italian dioceses. Among the special invitees, Germany is also quite present. While only Cardinal Marx was invited by the pope, the heads of Adveniat (the German Church’s aid organisation for the Church in Latin America) and Misereor (the German bishops’ development organisation) will also participate. Asia is rather absent, but Africa is not. The presence of two participants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as, from Oceania, Cardinal Ribat from Papua New Guinea, makes sense, as these countries both include large stretches of pristine rain forest and a significant number of Catholic faithful who can not always be reached easily. The same problems are also faced in the Amazon. North America, then, is represented by a Canadian and four Americans, including Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a like mind to Pope Francis.

* As the bishops of these countries are members of the bishops’ conference of the Antilles, the president of that body, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, also participates.

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A different perspective – the numbers behind the refugee crisis

The refugee crisis dominates headlines at the moment, and so do the opinions, as these are wont to do. There are positive opinions, that we must offer aid, shelter refugees and find solutions for the immediate need and despair we see, and these have a bigger share than I would have expected. But there are also negative ones, rooted in fear that we are welcoming terrorists, that strange cultures, religions and ideologies will come to dominate and irrevocably change our own culture and religions (or lack thereof).

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In countries around us, especially in Germany and Austria, the Church has been on the frontline in welcoming refugees and speaking out for their basic human needs. The bishops of these countries have been vocal on this topic, and one bishop, Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg im Breisgau, recently outlined the basics behind the refugee crisis and the numbers that we must keep in mind before making sweeping statements on either side of the argument:

erzbischof_stephan_burger_q“The great number of refugees which come to us in Germany, and the numerous crisis hotspots of this world are showing us very clearly now: We are standing before a critical point on world history. The different parts of the world are increasingly intertwined with one another and ecological fragile. For the future this includes both great dangers and significant opportunities. We must acknowledge that, despite and perhaps because of the great diversity of cultures and ways of life, we are a global community. And so we also carry responsibility for this community.

Today there are nearly 60 million people are fleeing. Behind this flight lies distress, despair, lack of perspective, tragedies.

However, the frequently heard idea, that the majority of refugees are en route to Europe, does not agree with reality. We must be careful not to look at the world from a European perspective. The 28 countries of the European Union at present house less than four per cent of the total number of refugees and displaced persons in the world. regarding this it is often forgotten that about three quarters of these people, as internally displaced persons, do not even make it across their own borders – let alone to Europe. We should not lose sight of their special need. For the Kurds of northern Iraq, for example, this means that out of every four inhabitant, one is displaced. In every village, in every city in this region there now live refugees. The civil war in Syria has by now caused more than four million people to flee. Additionally there are 7.6 million interior displaced persons in the country itself.

The moving images of refugee boats in the Mediterranean urge us to ask how we can rescue people in peril on the sea and guarantee them a life in security and dignity. The question about the complex reasons why thousands of people leave their homes, is not being asked enough.

Many of the desperate refugees are fleeing from the horror of a bloody war or the terror of despots. Others are called “economic refugees”: they want to escape a life of poverty and misery, which is partly caused by the political decisions of Industrial countries and emerging markets. For example, the traditional land rights of indigenous farmers are being overridden by the rights of investors. Unfair trade agreements disrupt the livelihood of local manufacturers. International corporations are plundering the resources of Africa – without any notable benefits for the local population.

We are convinced that there is a need for more legal and secure routes to Europe. We are aware that, also in Germany, the capacity to take care of refugees is not limitless. Therefore, there is a need for a European and global effort to comprehensively address the causes of poverty and flight. The topic must remain at the top of the agenda of world politics.  The reason for the increase in refugee movements in the European Union does not come from Africa, by the way, but is in the first place an expression of political and economical problems in the Balkans and also in continuing violence in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. Africans formed, in the first six months of this year, just 19 per cent of asylum seekers in the European Union – and it was similar a year earlier.

That there has now been a dramatic global increase to the aforementioned 60 million refugees, can in the first place be explained by the significant rise in forced internal migration as a result of war and violence. The truly grave humanitarian problems regarding refugees are to be found primarily in fragile states. Seen globally, cross-border flight occurred for 86 per cent in equally poor areas adjacent to crisis areas – such as in Lebanon, Kurdistan, Jordan and Kenya, in Chad and in northern Cameroon.

Both latter states especially show the results of violence, which has been ongoing for many months now, of the terrorist network “Boko Haram”. Most reports from this region that we hear in Germany are mostly about terror attacks and abductions. That the situation has also caused a wave of refugees is little known. Some 190,000 people have fled to Cameroon, Chad and Niger following terrorist actions. Additionally, there are some 100,000 internally displaced refugees in Cameroon, who had to flee from “Boko Haram” attacks.

Partner organisations of MISEREOR report that family members of refugees were killed by terrorists before their eyes. They speak about how combatants of “Boko Haram” came to their villages, plundered and then burnt their houses. Many families were separated; especially women and children desperately need protection.

In Germany, it is also a challenge to humanely house and care for refugees – especially with an eye on the coming winter. Certainly, more effort is needed. But we must not forget the people in those countries in the world who are not nearly as wealthy and have to offer protection and nourishment to far more refugees.”