Section No. 16 of the final document of the Synod on the Amazon speaks of the martyrs of the evangelization of this territory, and associates with them “those who have fought courageously in favor of an integral ecology in the Amazon.” It says: “This Synod recognizes with admiration those who fight, with great risk of their own lives, to defend the existence of this territory.
To whom does the Synod want to speak? The question arises sharply, because we have seen in the past how some South American bishops have been reinterpreting the word “martyr” by giving it a meaning different from that which the Church has used it to honor her children who died for the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Martyrs of the Past
In 1978, declared the “Year of Martyrs” by the Brazilian episcopate, three Jesuit Fathers were particularly celebrated: Roque González, Alfonso Rodrigues, and João de Castilhos. These three priests had been savagely martyred in 1628, killed with axes and burned alive in hatred of the faith. They were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1934.
But in this year of 1978, Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga wanted to associate with them thousands of Indians “martyred” by the colonial enterprise supported by the Church over the centuries. He celebrated them jointly by composing a “Mass of the Earth Without Evil,” as reported by FSSPX.News. Thus began the institution of a double celebration, parallel and equivocal.
Pope Francis joined this line. In 2017, he raised to the altars the 30 martyrs of Natal, massacred in 1645 by Dutch Calvinist soldiers in Cunhaù and Uruaçu. Section 16 of the final document refers to this incident. But the rest of the text mentions the defenders of integral ecology and the Amazonian territories. Which is it?
The Only True Missionary
Called witnesses, they are listed by the Vatican on the official page of the site devoted to the Synod on the Amazon. About thirty notices are devoted to five female religious, nine laymen including several Indian chiefs, and some priests for just over half. Three priests and two sisters are the subject of a request for canonization. Most have died a violent death. Three are still alive.
With one exception, these records only describe individuals who are brave and detached, altruistic, but not one of whom is dedicated to what the Church has always intended by being a missionary, charged with evangelizing, spreading the faith, and establishing Christianity.
The exception is the case of Sister Maria Troncatti, of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, an institute founded by St. John Bosco. She was born in 1883. Her notice is a contrast with the others: “Nurse, orthopedist, dentist, and anesthesiologist? But above all, she was a catechist and evangelizer, rich in wonderful resources of faith, patience, and fraternal love. Her work to improve the position of the Shuar woman flourishes in the hundreds of Christian families, now made by the free personal choice of the young spouses.” She died accidentally in 1969.
The Profile of the Synod “Witness”
The tone changes radically with the other notices. It is painful to read the note that the missionary accomplished “his main mission: to proclaim the Gospel to all Achuar whom he loved as his children.” When the term evangelization is sometimes encountered, it is for the most part diverted from its meaning. In fact, the qualities that have earned these individuals the distinction of being “witnesses” for the Synod on the Amazon are of another order.
The first quality is inculturation. It is the ability to assimilate and integrate Indian culture. Thus, Brother Vincente Cañas writes: “As a missionary, he went as far as possible in the work of inculturation guided by the Church. Gradually, he became one of them—he participated in rituals, fishing, planting, collecting honey, fruits and tubers, making baskets, handcrafted objects, and his own utensils. He devoted himself to learning their language.” This assimilation turns up in all the notices.
A second quality follows: anthropological work. Brother Cañas is highly praised for “writing a journal of great anthropological value of more than 3,000 pages.” Other missionaries are praised for their in-depth study of Amazon customs.
The third quality is the defense of the Indians, that is the assistance provided to the natives to help them in “the struggle and the seeking for their rights.” In particular, the efforts made to help them “to go and meet in large assemblies to discuss their cause, their problems, and especially the means of supporting themselves in the struggle for their rights” are welcomed. It is a support for a political struggle. See our article on missionary betrayal.
The fourth quality derives directly from this: the defense of the Amazonian territory. It’s about helping Indians get recognition for their ancestral lands. In that way, Fr. Rodolfo Lunkenbein died while he was working to mark the territory of Bororos. It is also to fight against all the farms putting the environment in danger, deforestation, mining, pollution, construction of dams, roads, etc. Thus it is said of Brother Paul McAuley, that “his commitment to keep the ‘common home’ was his evangelical mandate.”