When I heard about the Pan-Amazon Synod earlier this year, I was concerned about the future of the Church. I heard about strange doctrines and practices that aimed to give the Church an “Amazonian face.” When asked if I would like to go to the Amazon region to see for myself what was happening, I jumped on the opportunity.
The Brazil-based Plinio Corrêa de Oliviera Institute (IPCO) extended an invitation to members of Tradition, Family and Property to join a “caravan” in July. We would visit several cities of the Brazilian Amazon region to collect signatures to defend the sovereignty of the Brazilian Amazon. The petition, addressed to the secretary of the Amazon Synod, also asked that the traditional evangelization of the Indians continue.
Thus, I was honored to be part of a delegation of young Americans that joined other young volunteers from Brazil. From July 8-27, we collected signatures in over 22 cities in 4 different Brazilian states. We also circulated the petition in the Amazon region of Peru.
A “caravan” is a group of forty young Catholic men, all well dressed, traveling from place to place in four large vans. It attracts much attention. Wherever we went—gas stations, restaurants or churches, people wanted to know who we were, where we were from, and what we were doing. This attention also helped us to spread the word about our petition. Unfortunately, many Brazilians in the Amazon region weren’t even aware of the October Synod in Rome that will be discussing their future!
The daily schedule of the caravan consisted of traveling to a new city each day, where the volunteers would enter the respective city plaza and any surrounding shops. These central places were almost always bustling with people, and the eye-catching golden standards of the IPCO were hard to miss. The youthful volunteers with clipboards were also accompanied by their own musical band. Patriotic and religious Brazilian hymns such as Viva Mae de Deus e Nossa and the Hymno da Bandeira inspired many of the public to approach us and inquire about our petition.
As we traveled, the Brazilian terrain changed enormously. Every day was a new adventure. The Amazon region of Brazil has a lot of variety; it’s not just rainforest. We saw enormous fields, massive buttes, forests, swampland and even desert-like scrubland. The weather was mostly very hot and dry, averaging 100 degrees. This changed drastically when we went to Peru, crossing the Andes Mountains with its elevation of 14,000 feet. There, we encountered freezing temperatures forcing us to change into warm winter gear.
What most impressed me about Brazil were the constant reminders of its Catholic identity. Roadside shrines to Our Lady were everywhere along the highways. Gas stations had advertisements for Catholic Masses targeting truck drivers. Farmers’ fields had statues of Christ the Redeemer watching over their crops and cattle. Pharmacies were named after saints. Every city plaza was built in front of a church or cathedral. The soul of Brazil is Catholic. Our caravan aimed to keep the Amazon region Catholic!
During the caravan, we spoke with thousands of people. It would be difficult to record every conversation. However, here are some stories of what happened.
- One volunteer explained the purpose of the caravan to the local priest. After a Mass, the priest called upon the volunteer, saying, “We would like to invite Michael of the Plinio Corrêa Society that is doing a campaign in the city that is very important for the Church and Brazil.”
- A volunteer approached an older woman, who stopped a nearby young man and asked the volunteer to explain the petition to him so he could help her to decide to sign. When the volunteer started to explain, the young man interrupted him and asked, “Is this from the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute?” The volunteer replied affirmatively. The young man told the woman that “if it’s from IPCO, you can sign it because their things are always good.” The young man then explained that he had read the working document of the Amazon Synod and saw that it was absurd. He warned the volunteer that there are a lot of liberation theology priests in the diocese.
- Many Protestants declared they were against the idea of married priests.
- After signing the petition, one woman said, “You should tell this to the whole country. No! You should tell this to the whole world because nobody knows about this.”
- Another woman signed and said, “They want to do this in the Church? What they want to do is create a new church. This is not what the Church has always taught.”
- One man was very shocked that a Church synod would be discussing the internationalization of the Amazon. He asked the volunteer for all the names of the bishops and others involved so that he could warn everyone in his neighborhood and parish.
- A young man became very excited upon hearing about our petition. He said that everything to be discussed in the Synod was absurd. He also said he was perplexed by the way Pope Francis has been doing things. It doesn’t seem natural, yet seemed to be following a deliberate plan.
- When one volunteer explained the petition to a young couple on the street, the man interrupted, saying, “So, you are against the synod?” When the volunteer gave his objections, the man replied, “You don’t have to explain anything else, give me the clipboard I want to sign.” He also lamented the unfortunate state of decay inside the Church.
After spending three weeks on the road and traveling 4,000 miles through rural Brazil, we had successfully collected 20,000 signatures in twenty days. When asked to see who was willing to continue, everyone in the group raised their hands. However, most had to return to school because the school vacations came to an end.
Seeing firsthand the impact of the petition amongst Catholics in the Amazon was an enormous privilege and an experience I will never forget. The caravan raised a cry of alert in the Amazon region regarding the discussions taking place in Rome on the future of the Church. The discomforts and hardships we faced during our travels reminded us of the trials of the early missionaries who worked so hard to civilize and cultivate an authentic Catholic Brazil. Instead of trying to give the Church an “Amazonian face,” maybe the Synod should respect the work of those missionaries, many of whom gave their lives as martyrs. They should follow the example of the Jesuit missionary and Saint José de Anchieta who worked so hard to give Brazil and the Amazon a “Catholic face.”