New Catacombs Pact

More than a half century after a group of bishops at the Second Vatican Council made a solemn pledge “to live a simple lifestyle close to their people”, a group of participants from the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon signed a new pact in the Catacombs of Domitilla.

On 16 November 1965, just a few days before the closing of the Second Vatican Council, 42 Council Fathers celebrated Mass in the Catacombs of Domitilla, to ask God for the grace “to be faithful to the spirit of Jesus” in the service of the poor. After the celebration of the liturgy, they signed the ‘Catacombs’ Pact of the Poor and Servant Church’. Later, more than 500 Council Fathers added their names to the pact.

More than 50 years later, the legacy of those Council Fathers was taken up by a group of Bishops and participants in the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. During a celebration mass held in the Catacombs of Domitilla, on Sunday 20th October, the Synod Fathers present signed a new “Pact of the Catacombs for the Common Home. For a Church with an Amazonian face, poor and servant, prophetic and Samaritan”. The document contains 14 points.

The bishops promised to defend the Amazon rainforest, to promote an “integral ecology” of care for people and for the Earth and, “before the avalanche of consumerism,” to live “a happily sober lifestyle that is simple and in solidarity with those who have little or nothing.”
They made a renewed commitment to listening to and walking with migrants, the poor and, particularly, with the indigenous people of the Amazon, helping them “preserve their lands, cultures, languages, stories, identities and spiritualties.”

The bishops committed themselves “to abandon, consequently, in our parishes, dioceses and groups all types of colonist mentality and posture,” instead “welcoming and valuing cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity in a respectful dialogue with all spiritual traditions.”
The pastors also pledged to recognise ecclesial ministries in the communities, and to go from “pastoral visits to pastoral presence” to ensure that the right to the “Table of the World and the Table of the Eucharist is effective in all communities.”

They also promised to “recognise the services and real ‘diakonia’ of a great number of women” already ministering to Catholic communities in the region. The pact included a pledge “to walk ecumenically” in finding ways to inculturate and proclaim the Gospel and to defend the environment.

The bishops also promised to enact a “synodal” style for the life of the church in their dioceses to ensure that all members of the church, “because of their baptism and in communion with their pastors, have a voice and vote in the diocesan assemblies, in pastoral and parish councils and, ultimately, (in) everything that concerns the governance of the communities.”

In addition, they promised to stand by “those who are persecuted for their prophetic service of denouncing and remedying injustices, of defending the earth and the rights of the poor, of welcoming and supporting migrants and refugees.”

They also promised to “cultivate true friendships with the poor, visit the simplest people and the sick, exercise the ministry of listening, comfort and support that brings encouragement and renews hope.”
The pact was signed by about 40 bishops and by women and men participating in the synod as observers, experts or “fraternal delegates” of other Christian churches.

The main celebrant was Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the General Relator, of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. For the occasion, Hummes wore the stole of late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camera of Olinda and Recife, the driving force behind the 1965 declaration.

When Mass ended, Hummes gave the stole to retired Austrian Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil, which is located in Amazonia, saying he deserves to carry the “relic.” The Austrian is believed to have been the architect of this new Catacombs Pact.

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