Listening to the edges of the Church

Listening to the edges of the Church Our Lady of the Amazon Photo:

The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region may seem almost irrelevant to many Irish Catholics: sure, Pope Francis talks often of growth in the Church coming from the peripheries, but there are peripheries and there are peripheries.

Austen Ivereigh’s piece ‘When the Amazon meets the Tiber’ should help banish such scepticism, working  well too as an introduction to, for instance, Bro. Mark O’Connor’s regular ‘Letters from the Synod’ on

Sadly, suspicion, scorn and naked racism have marked far too much coverage of the synod in the English-speaking world, with perhaps the most alarming comment coming from Rome-based historian Roberto de Mattei. Through her @dianemontagna Twitter account, Diane Montagna of reported him as saying at a summit in Rome: “The Amazon Synod does not propose to civilize the savages but to make the civilized savages.”

Commenting on this, D.W. Lafferty remarked on his @rightscholar account: “What a fool. I’m glad this #AmazonRoundtable is happening, because the darkest corners of the Church are being exposed to the sunlight.”

Much distress and indignation being stirred up around the synod has related to a couple of statues of pregnant women, one of whom native Amazonians and missionaries who work with them have explicitly identified as ‘Our Lady of the Amazon’.

With Fr Gerald Murray being especially scathing on EWTN about these images, Adam Rasmussen tweeted from @Chrysologus to put his finger on an obvious problem with lazy Western critiques.

“In attacking the indigenous statue of Our Lady pregnant, this priest redeploys centuries-old Protestant apologetics against Catholic veneration of statues as ‘idol worship’ and superstition. He literally attacks his fellow Catholics with an anti-Catholic trope! Stunning,” he writes.

“This is an example of colonialistic ideology within the Church,” he continues, “where Amazonian Catholics are treated as ‘pagans’ because they had the audacity to receive the Gospel into their own cultural matrix instead of imitating European forms.”

Pope Francis talks often of growth in the Church coming from the peripheries”

Pedro Gabriel’s ‘Our Lady of the Amazon, Pray for Us’ on is particularly valuable on this affair and should be read in full by anyone sincerely interested in these matters; his previous post ‘Paganism in the Vatican? Hermeneutic of suspicion at its peak’ is worth reading too, as is Nathan Turowsky’s ‘Inculturation and syncretism’.

“Early missionaries found that Celtic paganism had a very strong relationship to its geographical place; the worship sites of Celtic polytheists, like the ‘high places’ of the Hebrew Bible, had religious meaning of their own even apart from the gods with whom they were associated,” Turowksy writes.

“To ease the transition to Christianity, the missionaries built churches on many of these sacred sites. Protestants tend to regard this with suspicion and neopagans see it as appropriative. However, nobody thinks that it would somehow have been better if the Church had simply declared Year Zero and systematically obliterated every trace of Britain and Ireland’s preexisting culture.”

Irish Catholics in particular should be wary of shouting down suggestions that the particular Faith traditions and cultural languages of Amazonian Catholics should be looked on askance, given our own history; viewed in Antiquity as incestuous cannibals from the edge of the world, the Christianised Irish famously helped rejuvenate the early medieval Church in a distinctly Irish style that wasn’t always comfortably received.



Speaking of distinctively Irish styles, fans of podcasts can do far worse than listen to some fine commentary on St John Henry Newman by Fr Eamonn Conway with the ‘Come and See Inspirations’  team at, and by Rachel Sherlock and Maria Connolly who talk about Newman and sainthood through friendship at

From further afield, it’s worth listening to Bishop Robert Barron’s many lectures on St John Henry at while his episode on Newman in Catholicism: The Pivotal Players can be watched on

Elsewhere, Fr Erich Przywara’s prescient 1955 article ‘Newman: Saint and Modern Doctor of the Church?’ is well worth a read at, as is Mark Gallagher’s ‘Newman as Novelist’ at, along with pretty much everything at the wonderful, an example of how to help educate and evangelise today’s Catholics.