Interview with Msgr. Marek Piątek C.Ss.R., bishop of the Diocese of Coari in Amazon, who took part in the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon held in Rome, October 6-27, 2019.
Father Bishop, what news are you going to bring to your people in the diocese of Coari?
First of all, I will pass on to them the blessing of the Holy Father Francis. At our meetings during the synod of bishops, I asked him for a blessing for our diocese, priests, consecrated persons, seminarians, and our lay people. I also assured him of our prayer for him. I reminded the Pope that he raised the prelature of Coari to the rank of a diocese in 2013. I also carry in my heart the universality of the Catholic Church, that I could experience here in the Eternal City where the tomb of St. Peter is and the seat of his successors. I also bring with me the entire heritage of the Synod of Bishops to the Amazon!
The time of the synod is a special time of God’s grace not only for our continent, our local dioceses but for the entire Church as well. The synod became for us the time of Pentecost. It is the Holy Spirit who was the main actor of the synod of bishops. We were trying listening to what the Holy Spirit says to the Church in the Pan-Amazon. We were trying to listen to what the Holy Father says, what synod fathers say, what lay and religious people say, we listened especially to the representatives of indigenous peoples from the Amazon.
After returning to Coari, I will also tell our fellow diocesan about the canonization of the Brazilian sister Dulce of the Poor from Salvador, from the state of Bahia, in which I participated here in Rome. I will also tell them about my visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and about a pleasant meeting with Fr. Michael Brehl, Superior General and the Redemptorist community in the General House. I prayed before the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for our diocese. Every week in our parish there is a constant Novena. This is a beautiful heritage left by Redemptorists!
How is the diocese of Coari? What are its characteristics? What problems has it to face?
The diocese of Coari, in the state of Amazonas, is young, missionary and dynamic! It was erected by Pope Francis on October 9, 2013. The patron of the diocese is St. Anne, mother of the Mother of God and grandmother of Jesus Christ. The area of the diocese is about 120 000 km² with less than 300 000 residents. It has 10 huge parishes with over 500 communities. Two parishes are run by Redemptorists.
In the diocese, there are over 20 priests and 4 female religious orders, as well as hundreds of lay people: extraordinary ministers of the word of God, of the Eucharist, authorized witnesses to the sacraments of marriage and baptism; there are over 800 lay catechists and about 30 various pastoral ministries. We use the media for evangelization. Redemptorists at Coari have been running a radio station for over 50 years.
Our parishes and communities live on banks of beautiful, but also dangerous rivers and lakes. Our people are good, noble and believing, despite some weaknesses. We lead our lives and pastoral care according to the rhythm of rivers and lakes: the time of summer is the period of floods.
Transport is done only by ships and boats. The distances between the parishes are very large. From the seat of the diocese in Coari to the nearest parish you need to sail 10 hours by boat.
What does the life of the people look like? Do you suffer from a lack of vocations?
We live modestly and poorly. We care about self-sufficiency, but we simply cannot afford larger investments. In 2000, we opened the Theological Seminary of St. Anna, where we house young men graduating from high school and undergoing the so-called propaedeutic year. In Manaus, the capital city of the state, ten of our candidates for priesthood study the philosophy and theology.
Local priesthood and religious vocations are the joy of our diocese. We have good and zealous priests from the local people! Lay people also are doing a big contribution to pastoral ministry and evangelization. With a small number of priests, there are especially lay people who pass on the heritage of faith to new generations. Priestly and episcopal ministry flows from the sacrament of priesthood, while lay people ministry is set upon the sacrament of baptism.
In a situation of high activity of Protestant sects, continuous training and formation are needed, especially for lay people. It is why, overcoming many difficulties along the way, we have built a “Retreat House of St. Alfons and the Mission Formation Center. ” Since 2017, there have been courses for pastors and lay people from all over the diocese.
Let’s talk about the Redemptorists. How they did get involved in the ministry in the diocese of Coari?
Our present status grows out of the beautiful work of many missionaries. We were a territorial prelature for 50 years. It was the pope st. Paul VI, who called her into existence Paul VI in 1963 and entrusted her to the pastoral care of the Redemptorists of Manaus. For almost 40 years, the prelature was led by the wise and devoted Bishop Gutemberg Freire Régis CSsR, who came from the local areas.
We owe to the heroic work of the Redemptorists in Brazil from the Vice-Province of Manaus and from the American from the former Province of St. Louis (now incorporated into Denver Province) that the pastoral and material structures of our diocese have developed. There would be no diocese in Coari today without these over 70 years of beautiful, but very demanding missionary work! From the very beginning, the Sisters of the Adoration of the Blood of the Lord have cooperated with the Redemptorists in the diocese. Now we praise the Lord for all this and we are also very grateful to them!
I am also convinced that thanks to their earnest prayer and care for priestly vocations, today all our diocesan priests come from the local folk. This is very important! The mission bears fruit and can only grow when the local vocations appear! Our task is now to uphold and develop the heritage received.
What can we expect after the Synod for Amazon? How is going the synodal reflection to be continued?
The Holy Father, at the beginning of the Synod, pointed our reflection and prayer out four matters regarding the Amazon region. It is pastoral care, diversity of cultures, socio-ecological dimension, and synodal reality of the Church. Expectations regarding the Synod have raised therefore very high, also due to considerable interest from the mass media.
I would like to emphasize that the Synod is a breath of spring in the life of our Church. It will contribute to deepening faith, to the development of the work of evangelization, to reinvigorating cooperation in building God’s Kingdom based on justice and truth, and to greater concern for the “Common House”, that is, for the whole work of God to create and redeem people and the world. Integral ecology, which emphasizes the value and dignity of human life, is an important part of evangelization.
The synod shows us the need for greater concern for indigenous peoples, for respect for their culture, tradition, and spirituality. During the meeting, we talked about a possible new rite for the Church in the Amazon and possible ways to remedy the perceived lack of priests. We have been invited to increase the value of laypeople and their ministry flowing from the sacrament of baptism. They also talked about the need for greater appreciation of the role of women in the Church. The role of personal testimony and brotherly love was emphasized, especially towards the poor and abandoned.
What will be the continuation? The official conclusion of the Synod of Bishops in Rome is certainly not the end of reflection on the issues that the Synod dealt with. It is now, especially after the soon release of the exhortation announced by Pope Francis, when the very important stage begins, that of implementing the synod’s resolutions for the entire Pan-Amazon, which covers 9 countries. We must bring in the spirit of the Synod to our local churches, our dioceses, communities, and human hearts! This will require everyone’s commitment, shared responsibility, wisdom and spiritual insight, missionary zeal, and great support from the Holy Spirit.
Father Bishop, you are one of five Redemptorist bishops who minister in the Pan-Amazon. What elements of Redemptorist missionary practice are useful for your work in the diocese?
I wrote in my episcopal motto, “DISCIPULUS MISSIONARIUS REDEMPTORIS”. So I try to make my discipleship a missionary despite the human limitations. For me personally, Redemptorists and their spirituality are very valuable and contribute a lot to the bishop’s missionary work. Here, in the Amazon, our Redemptorist charism is very topical! I will mention only the most important elements: love for Christ the Redeemer, evangelization, especially for the poor, love for the Church and our people, perseverance in the entrusted mission, spirit of prayer, simplicity in the way of life, ability to be always on the move, accessible, Marian piety, striving for holiness … The lack that I can feel is the scarcity of community life, although, on the other hand, some “loneliness” belongs to human existence, including the bishop’s missionary ministry.
When I have recently visited the Alphonsian Academy, Father Alfonso Amarante, Preside of the Academy, gave me a book entitled: “Insights: Foundations and places of implementation”. St. Alfons Maria de Liguori, our founder and Doctor of the Church, talked a lot about the role of conscience in Christian life. This mission of formation of conscience and proper discernment is very timely and much needed in today’s pluralistic, but often disorientated and lost society. This is another characteristic element of our tradition, important for the missionary and the bishop.
The Synod took place in October, the mission month. How can one support the Church in the Amazon region?
It was the will of the Holy Father, that we were experiencing October for the first time as “Extraordinary Missionary Month.” In Brazil, October is also the Rosary Month, but above all, it is the Missionary Month. The church is by its nature missionary! The strength of missionary testimony comes from contemplation, from complex hands, from the Eucharist, from hearing the word of God, from contact with people who are especially in need …
There are many forms of help for missions. Prayer is irreplaceable in the mission-supporting work! And this is what each of us can do, praying for missions and for specific missionaries. We can support the Church in the Amazon by going on missions as priests, religious and lay volunteers. We can support missions with our suffering as we offer our various life difficulties to God.
We can also support the Church in Amazon through specific material help. Evangelization costs: we incur expenses for the purchase and renovation of ships, for fuel for long missionary journeys, for the construction of new churches and pastoral centers, for the very expensive formation of seminarians, for running radio stations, for various charity and pastoral works … The Church in the Amazon is poor and requires material support to evangelize and to do it more effectively! So we are very grateful to those who support us and we constantly pray for them.
Thank you so much for the interview.
Fr. Grzegorz Ruszaj CSsR, Scala News