A preparatory document for next year's Pan-Amazonian synod was released Friday, indicating that key themes for the meeting will be the role of women in the Church, the rights and traditions of indigenous people, and efforts to find "new ways" to provide greater access to the Eucharist.

"Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology," was published June 8 as the official preparatory document for the October 2019 synod on the Pan-Amazonian region of South America, which includes parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname.

The document highlighted several priorities for the upcoming synod discussion, one of which was the need for greater pastoral presence in the Amazonia region.

One of the main areas of discussion, it said, will be "the cry of thousands of communities deprived of the Sunday Eucharist for long periods of time."

The text stressed the importance of creating the possibility "for all the baptized to participate in the Sunday Mass."

The document noted "an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of a Church with an Amazonian face and a Church with a native face."

It further stressed that "new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life."

In March 2017, Pope Francis suggested openness to the possibility that married men might be ordained priests in some Roman Catholic dioceses where there are few priests. His comments sparked speculation that the Pan-Amazonian synod could open the door to the ordination of viri probati- a term referring to mature, married men.

The ordination to the priesthood of viri probati is thought by some to be a possible solution to a shortage of priestly vocations in Brazil.

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During a June 8 press conference presenting the preparatory document, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, declined to answer questions about the ordination of viri probati directly, but said there is a need for "new paths" responding to the needs delineated in the text.

"New paths above all will impact the ministries of the liturgy and theology," he said, quoting the text, adding that "we did a big investigation...and we have seen these needs."

In terms of what these "new paths" might entail, he said the synod of bishops has simply outlined the needs, and that answers to this question will depend on the proposals from local bishops in the Amazonia region.

He noted that the term viri probati was not used in the text- that "ministries" were discussed instead, because "we want to decant this expression [viri probati], which continually comes back."

"We let people say [viri probati], but not demanding that we have to say it," he said, noting that there is currently no formal declaration from the Holy See on the possibility of ordaining of viri probati.

"We let the people take their course with this topic, and we'll see what could happen," he said, referring to the synod discussion.

Canon law for the Latin Catholic Church prohibits the ordination of married men to the priesthood, though there are already some limited exceptions to this, especially regarding the ordination of formerly Anglican and Protestant ecclesial leaders who have converted to Catholicism.

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Another priority highlighted in the text was the need to specify "the contents, methods, and attitudes necessary for an inculturated pastoral ministry capable of responding to the territory's vast challenges," and to propose "new ministries and services for the different pastoral agents, ones which correspond to activities and responsibilities within the community."

To this end, the text called for a deeper reflection reflection on "indigenous theology" based on local practices and traditions, as well reflections on what official ministries can be carried out by women given the "central role" they play in the Amazonian Church. The text also urged the encouragement of more local, indigenous vocations to the priesthood.

On the role of women, Baldisseri underlined the need to "create space for women in the Church at all levels," but stressed that these spaces "are the ones that the doctrine of the Church teaches and the current discipline."

The Church, he said, is "very prudent" and will leave it up to the discussion to decide what new ministries and spaces can be created for women in the region, but always in line with "her classic position, her teaching and discipline on priesthood from the Latin Church."

The document also stressed the importance of having greater respect for the dignity and rights of indigenous populations in the area, and of caring for the diverse terrain characteristic of the Amazon region.

The preamble of the text, which is divided into three parts dedicated to the "see, judge (discern), and act" model, says the main goal of the gathering is to listen to indigenous people in the area and make them the the "first interlocutors" of the discussion.

To do this, "we want to know the following: How do you imagine your serene future and the good life of future generations? How can we work together toward the construction of a world which breaks with structures that take life and with colonizing mentalities, in order to build networks of solidarity and inter-culturality? And, above all, what is the Church's particular mission today in the face of this reality?"

The first part of the document outlined the historical, social and ecological context of the Pan-Amazonian region, praising the rich cultural and bio-diversity of the area, and condemning the "culture of consumerism and waste turns the planet into one giant landfill."

"New ideological colonialisms hidden under the myth of progress are being imposed, thereby destroying specific cultural identities," it said, and cautioned against "distorted" policies which seek to conserve nature without taking into consideration the needs and rights of the people who live there.

Specific concern was raised about the many Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation (PIAV), who have chosen to live in a way that is distant from the outside world and, at times, from other indigenous populations.

These people, the document said, are the most vulnerable population in the area, since they "do not possess the tools required for dialogue and negotiation with the outsiders that invade their territories."

The second part of the document, dedicated to discernment, touched on the social, ecological, sacramental and ecclesial-missionary needs of the area, with specific attention placed on the role of local faithful and their unity with their pastors.

It stressed the unity of humanity's relationship with God, with others and with creation, saying these three "vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us."

To evangelize, then, means "promoting the dignity of each individual, the common good of society, social progress, and care for the environment."

The document also stressed the importance of unity between Catholic laity in the area and their bishops, saying "the upholding of Church tradition – carried out by the whole people of God – requires the unity of the faithful with their pastors when examining and discerning new realities."

It emphasized the importance of bishops accompanying their pastors, saying the synod discussion will require "an extensive exercise in reciprocal listening, especially between the faithful and the Church's magisterial authorities."

The document closed with a questionnaire consisting of three sets of questions related to each section of the text which will be sent out to bishops in the region, the answers to which will help form the basis of the synod's working document.