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PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis sees the Amazon as a "testing ground" for the reimagining and restructuring of the Church, a Peruvian bishop is suggesting.
Bishop David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea of Puerto Maldonado, Peru says the vehicle for such restructuring is the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (ECA), the newly created transnational bishops' group designed to implement the recommendations of the 2019 Amazon Synod, as well as Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia ("Beloved Amazon").
According a June 29 press release, the ECA is "a new organism of vital importance for the pastoral mission of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean." It will help to "outline the Amazon face of this Church," to "find new paths for the evangelizing mission, especially incorporating the proposal of integral ecology," to respond to "the cries of the poor and of Mother Earth."
Martínez de Aguirre, vice president of the conference, said, "We can say that it could be considered a kind of experiment ... for an ecclesial way of life, based on synodality, in which the bishop is no longer someone who runs the Church on his own, but someone that is part of the entire ecclesial journey."
"As Pope Francis says in The Joy of the Gospel, the shepherds are there, sometimes in the lead, sometimes in the middle, sometimes behind," he explained.
The ECA will include "women and indigenous," reflecting the new "synodal spirit" of the Church, Martínez de Aguirre said.
Conference president Cdl. Cláudio Hummes echoed Martínez de Aguirre, noting that following Pope Francis' suggestion, the ECA is not "an episcopal conference like so many others" but is instead being branded an "ecclesial conference" to emphasize the "synodal nature of the Church in the region."
[It will be] "like the Synod of the Amazon, where there were bishops who had a vote, but also many others, laypeople, indigenous people, with the right to express an opinion," Hummes added.
Many observers are suggesting that like the Amazon Synod, the ECA continues the upending of traditional Catholicism that has characterized Francis' tenure. One Brazilian source told Church Militant last October that the Amazon Synod was at the forefront of pushing liberation theology, describing it as a vehicle for progressive ideologies, not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The themes of eco-justice, climate change, liberation of indigenous peoples, inculturation, migrants, anti-colonialism, intergenerational justice, education and women's ministry" characterized discussions Dr. Jules Gomes, Church Militant's Rome correspondent, pointed out.
In a coded attack on capitalism, Gomes said, the synod referred to "the advancement of predatory and colonialist economic models, which often kill."
Those leading synod discussions dismissed traditional interpretations of evangelization, foregrounding instead "ecumenism" because "a missionary Church is also an ecumenical Church," they said.
The October synod was also made famous by the appearance of carved figures of Pachamama, an Amazonian fertility goddess, at Catholic churches and ceremonies throughout Rome — including on the grounds of the Vatican itself.
The ECA came into being, according to the press release, as a result of a virtual meeting from June 26–29 that spelled out its "identity, composition and general form of operation."
Several Vatican representatives who took part in the meeting included Cdl. Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops; Cdl. Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; Cdl. Luis Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; and Cdl. Michael Czerny, secretary of the Section for Migrants and Refugees.
"Three designated representatives of original peoples," a religious sister, a laywoman and a layman also participated.