From Missionaries to the School of Syncretistic Paganism
The missionary Fr. Corrado Dalmonego has been living in Catrimani for 11 years. Thus, he knows the Yanomami well. He sums up his attitude toward their religious beliefs as a culture that lives out “the experience of their own religiosity and spirituality.” Fr. Dalmonego believes that they can “even help the Church to cleanse herself perhaps from schemes, mental structures that may have become obsolete or inadequate.”
First, Fr. Dalmonego speculates that the Yanomami can help the Church to “defend this world” and to “build an integral ecology” by “establishing bridges between traditional knowledge and the modern, ecological knowledge of Western society.”
Finally, the Church is enriched “by research done on shamanism, mythologies, different knowledge, visions of the world, and visions of God.” This is because strong moments of dialogue help missionaries “discover the essence of our faith, often disguised by ornaments and cultural traditions.”
One form of spiritual enrichment is the Yanomami’s ability to “tend to put things together,” that is, they can invoke the God of the whites without giving up their own beliefs. “They do not give up but simply appropriate something else. Why should you not do this also as a Church?” the Consolata missionary asks. “On the one hand, this can be branded as syncretism or relativism,” he concedes. However, he concludes that “We do not own the truth.”
Anthropology Betrays the Missionary Spirit
This new conception of the Church’s evangelizing action is thus reduced to a mere exercise in inter-religious dialogue. Fr. Corrado Dalmonego brags about an astonishing fact that any traditional missionary would consider a most bitter failure. He celebrates the fact that he is the director of “a mission of presence and dialogue,” in which no one has been baptized for 53 years!
For this reason, the Catrimani mission is serving as a reference point for the Vatican’s Pan-Amazonian Synod in October, because it is considered to be “a prophetic presence for the Church, which listens to the peoples.”
Such missionaries apparently do not care about what Jesus Christ may say when He sees His mandate to go and evangelize all peoples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” unfulfilled. Instead, they seem to listen to David Kopenawa,9 a Yanomami leader, who claims the Catrimani Mission was right in not contesting the Yanomami culture or condemning shamanism. Hence, the Italian missionary believes the coming Synod is very important as a means to open people’s eyes to the Yanomami message since everyone’s attention will be fixed on the Amazon.
A New Way for the Entire Church
These sentiments seem entirely in sync with the plans of the Synod organizers. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, stated at the press conference presenting the Preparatory Document for the Special Assembly next October that his objective is “to find new pastoral paths for a Church with an Amazonian face, with a prophetic dimension in the search for ministries and more appropriate lines of action in a context of truly integral ecology” (sic).
Aware of the rather cryptic character of his statement, Cardinal Baldisseri added: “It is Pope Francis who shows us the way to understand the expression ‘Amazonian face.’” In fact, to Puerto Maldonado, he says: “We who do not inhabit these lands, need your wisdom and knowledge to enter, without destroying the treasure that encloses this region, echoing the words of the Lord to Moses, ‘Take off your sandals, for the ground you are treading is a holy ground’ (Ex. 3:5).’”
Cardinal Baldisseri continues, “as Pope Francis has said, the task of the new evangelization of the traditional cultures living in the Amazon and in other territories requires lending the poor ‘our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them’” (Evangeli Gaudium, No. 198).
More specifically, this communication with God takes place through shamans. In its subsection titled “Spirituality and Wisdom,” the preparatory document affirms that the “various spiritualities and beliefs” of indigenous peoples “motivate them to live a communion with the earth, water, trees, animals, with the day and the night” and that “the wise elders, indiscriminately called warlocks, masters, Wayanga or shamans—among others—promote people’s harmony with one another and with the cosmos.”
The care of the environment, the document affirms, is one of the main areas where this ecclesial learning must be fulfilled: “The ecological conversion is to assume the mysticism of the interconnection and interdependence of all things created. … This is something that Western cultures can and perhaps should learn from traditional cultures in the Amazon and other territories and communities on the planet. They, the peoples, ‘have much to teach us’ (Evangeli Gaudium, No. 198). In their love for their land and their relationship with the ecosystems, they know God the Creator, source of life. … That is why Pope Francis has pointed out that ‘it is necessary for all of us to be evangelized by them’ and by their cultures.”
The Consolata religious missionaries at the Catrimani Mission can sleep in peace. Pope Francis will not reproach them for not baptizing any Yanomami in 53 years. Perhaps they should become apprentice shamans and take a course on Yanomami rituals by David Kopenawa.