The Amazon Synod: Interview with S.E.R. Monsignor Zenildo Luiz Pereira da Silva, C.Ss.R., Bishop of the Prelature of Borba, Amazonia-Brazil
The Prelature of Borba located in the state of Amazonia, Brazil, was erected on 13 July 1963 with the bull “Ad Christi” by Pope Paul VI. Bishop Adriano Jaime Miriam Veigle was the first bishop of the prelature. Msgr. Zenildo L. Pereira da Silva, CSsR is the current bishop of the Prelature, since September 20, 2017. He is one of the participants in the Synod for Amazonia which takes place in Rome from 6 to 27 October 2019. Among the participants there are 6 Redemptorists from Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia: 5 bishops and a superior of the Vice-province.
How would you describe the current situation in the Amazon region from a pastoral point of view?
The immense territory of Amazonia is characterized by a plurality of human groups, cultures, and religions. This plurality that translates into a variety of spiritual experiences, different expressions of relationships with the transcendent and different understanding of the liturgical symbols celebrated in sacred spaces, undermines the colonial and monocultural heritage of the Church and its liturgies today. Beyond the cultural and religious plurality, the distances cause a serious pastoral problem for the constitution of a Church with the Amazonian face (see IL, 128).
Distances, lack of resources and priests prevent us from going ahead with the formation of the laity and the local clergy to the pastoral service in the communities.
Today we are a missionary church and we have many good and dedicated lay leaders, but it is easy to notice that two basic elements are missing in the many prelatures and dioceses: human resources and financial subsidies.
At the same time, we are concerned with the advancement of Pentecostal movements, of evangelicals, of religious sects, etc. These groups promote a theology of prosperity based on biblical superficiality, creating the idea of a “God” of individualism.
Personally, I am convinced that we need to create a more solid basis for promoting evangelization in the Amazon. It not possible to develop a more systematic pastoral care adapted to the needs of the people when we can rely only on sporadic and voluntary offerings of the faithful. Therefore, it is necessary to call on the Church for greater solidarity with the Amazon region and to help the neediest dioceses and prelatures.
What is specific for the Prelature of Borba?
The Prelature is located on the banks of the Madeira River in the Amazonas state. Evangelization is done through boats. It is an expensive kind of transport. In just one trip, to visit 20 communities, you have to spend between 700 and 1,500 reais. Is it very expensive!
We have no roads and all the parishes and communities are visited by boat, motorboat, canoe, etc. The road is the river, the lakes, and the streams. In the Prelature, we have about 400 communities, where the pastoral minister must arrive. There are indigenous peoples who live in these communities: Munduruku, Sateré.
Another characteristic thing is the strong popular pietas, the celebrations of the feasts of saints and other expressions of particular traditions.
What hopes emerge for the Church in Amazonia, as the Synod develops?
The Synod is the result of a long process of listening that began more than a year ago. This attentive listening has demonstrated the real needs of the Church in the Amazon region.
In my opinion, the Synod raises hopes in regard to the following aspects:
- the possibility of forming a Church with the Amazonian face;
- sensitivity to the need for openness and dialogue between cultures;
- growth of a missionary and ministerial Church;
- a transformation, a passage from the Church with pastoral activities limited to the now-and-then visits in the communities to the Church that is still present;
- an evangelization based on the Word of God and on the Eucharist;
- ecology is a transversal theme and must accompany all pastoral actions … awakening commitment and awareness.
There are also some more audacious suggestions that arise, such as the ordination of the female diaconate, the promotion and continuous improvement of the formation of the permanent male diaconate, the formation of good catechists for the most distant communities, etc. They are just proposals.
You are visiting the community of Sant ‘Alfonso in Rome on the feast of Our Lady of Aparecida, patroness of Brazil. You presided over the Eucharist in our Redemptorist community. The Shrine of Aparecida is the first parish in Latin America, where the Redemptorists began their missionary ministry. How do you think, how the Redemptorists can continue their missionary work in Brazil and Latin America today to face current challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of society and the Church?
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for the invitation! Celebrating the feast with the brothers is a joy. We are brothers. We are Marians! This feast of Our Lady of Aparecida pushes us and motivates us even more to evangelization and mission.
Being a Redemptorist is a grace, a blessing. To be a Redemptorist is to make an option of life for the mission, it means to spend one’s life at the service in the announcement of the kingdom of God, an explicit announcement of the Word of God.
The vocation to the Redemptorist life is fundamentally a call to missionary life. The Amazon region is a mission field. So I think it’s our place, from the congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
I still remember that our decision for the mission is based on the following biblical text: ” The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. “(Lk 4:18).
I would like to emphasize that our presence in the Amazon is justified by the following reasons:
First, it is a mission region. We are missionaries. We have many good examples and testimonies from foreign and Brazilian missionaries who offered their lives for this cause;
Second, it is a region where the poor and the abandoned are despised. For this reason, the Redemptorist presence in the Amazon is a service of the Samaritan who cares. It is the presence of the custodian who can notice the needs and who is present in the life of the communities and the poor. To live among the most abandoned is to live in our charism.
Moreover, I would like to refer to our Constitution No. 74 which reminds us that the Gospel must be considered as the supreme norm of all the actions of us as religious men. It is also good to remember that Redemptorists always evangelize as a community and through community life. Therefore, the presence of the Redemptorist charism in the Amazon is necessary as a prophetic and hopeful sign. Where the poor are, there must be Redemptorists.
I am a Redemptorist bishop of the poorest Prelature of the Northern Region. I am very pleased and grateful to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, to the Province of Denver and to the Viceprovince of Manaus in which I grew up and was trained in the service of the Church. May God always bless this Redemptorist family with good and holy vocations.
Thank you so much for the interview. We wish you the light of the Holy Spirit, we will remember you and the whole Church in the Amazon in our prayer, especially in this important moment of the synod meeting.
foto: P. Luiz A. Roballo CSsR