THE DOMINICAN LAITY FROM THE STANDPOINT OF "QUERIDA AMAZONIA"
With his Encyclical Laudato Si’ on “integral ecology” (2015), Pope Francis made clear and of pressing interest what is being debated throughout the world, for the topic he deals with affects all humanity. This document is a letter addressed to all those people of good will who are concerned about the environment and the health of the planet, our shared home.
The Holy Father defines integral ecology as something that “ clearly respects its human and social dimensions” (n. 137), and deals with the various kinds of ecology: environmental, economic and social, cultural and, in conclusion, the ecology of daily life; based on two principles: the common good and justice between the generations.
Briefly, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.“ (n. 139)
One possible solution led to the special Assembly of the Synod of bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region, whose concluding document, entitled “ Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology ” a provided Pope Francis with a number of instruments for the promulgation of the post-synodal apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia”. This makes it possible for us to reflect on certain elements that are relevant to the presence of the Dominican laity in six of the nine countries of the region making up the Pan-Amazonian ecclesiastic network (REPAM), which consists of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela and French Guyana.
Four dreams are presented in the Exhortation: a social dream, a cultural dream, an ecological dream and an ecclesiastic dream. These dreams are addressed – and make reference – explicitly to the laity in Chapter IV, “An ecclesiastic dream”, with topics such as the inculturation of ministry, communion and the participation of all the human countenances of Amazonia.
1. THE INCULTURATION OF MINISTRY
The Pope stresses the commitment and responsibility of laypersons which allow them to ” … proclaim God’s word, teach, organize communities, celebrate certain sacraments, seek different ways to express popular devotion and develop the multitude of gifts that the Spirit pours out in their midst. But they need the celebration of the Eucharist because it “makes the Church”. We can even say that “no Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist”. If we are truly convinced that this is the case, then every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness.” (n. 89)
2. DYNAMIC COMMUNITIES
Human and Christian formation implies, among other things entering more deeply into the kerygma (n. 65) for a proper growth and development of the communities because “[t]he Eucharist, … as source and summit, requires the development of that rich variety. Priests are necessary, but this does not mean that permanent deacons (of whom there should be many more in the Amazon region), religious women and lay persons cannot regularly assume important responsibilities for the growth of communities, and perform those functions ever more effectively with the aid of a suitable accompaniment.” (n. 92).
It is also necessary to have leaders who are protagonists of ecclesiastic communion and participation since, as the Exhortation stresses, it is a of Amazonian features that “… requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority and familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one. For wherever there is a particular need, he has already poured out the charisms that can meet it. This requires the Church to be open to the Spirit’s boldness, to trust in, and concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay. The challenges in the Amazon region demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity ” (n. 94).
3. THE PRESENCE OF LAY DOMINICANS from the standpoint of “QUERIDA AMAZONIA”.
Ever since the arrival of the Spaniards in America (1492), the Dominicans have been present on the “continent of hope”, as Benedict XVI indicated. This is a Dominican family that works for the evangelisation of the peoples, for the salvation of men and women as established in the Constitutions of the Order, for human rights and for the integral formation of each and every one of those who are taking part in the building of the Kingdom of God here and now.
In “Querida Amazonia” several terms are addressed to the laity, such as the call to proclaim the Word, to teach, to organise, to celebrate, to seek and to offer at the service de la community the gifts and charisms that the Spirit has poured out on every human being in order to develop a culture of communion and of ecclesiastic participation; as John Paul affirmed in his post-synodal Exhortation “Christifideles laici”, published on 30 December 1988, on “the vocation and the mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world “, in which there is a clear contribution on the part of Br. Yves Congar, O.P. (1904-1995) on the theological reflection offering useful instruments for the advancement of theology in order to discern the role of the lay faithful in an ecclesiology of communion, participation and mission.
Apropos this, in his article “La contribution d’Yves Congar à la réflexion théologique sur le laïcat” (The contribution of Yves Congar to theological reflection on the laity), Ramiro Pellitero (2004) states that our brother Congar “… praises its richness and its content, its structure and its unity, and its close link to Vatican II and Scripture… […] and stresses that the standpoint of mission is linked to the Church’s reflection on herself (Lumen Gentium) and on her relationship with the world (Gaudium et Spes). He stresses three points: the responsibility of the laity as active subjects in the Church and in human history; the value of ‘spontaneous (i.e. non-ordained) ministers’ alongside ordained ministers and charisms; the anthropological and theological foundation of the distinction between men and women and the contribution of women in society and in the Church”.
In this sense, we may say that these elements are already being developed, such as responsibility, the value of spontaneous ministers and the contribution of women in society and in the Church starting from the inculturation of the minister, testified by the various groups, fraternities and youth movements who have a passion for the Truth, an enthusiasm for preaching and who take part in various programmes as voluntary workers in “Querida Amazonia”.
Mons. David Martinez, O.P., bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado and Special Secretary of the Synod, has emphasised that: “[t]he title [of the Exhortation] is already a reflection of the heart of the Pope, who shows a deep love for this particular territory and its peoples. The exhortation is a poem of love proclaimed to the whole universal Church and to all people of good will. It is a poem which weeps for the crimes and injustices, and which marvels at the beauty of these forests and their inhabitants.”
The Dominican Family in Latin America and in the Caribbean is making great efforts to share the experience of the Gospel throughout the Provinces, Vice-Provinces and Vicariates, through the various communities of Sisters in contemplative and in apostolic life; this is reflected in the collaboration of bodies such as the Interprovincial Conference of the Dominicans of Latin America and the Caribbean (CIDALC), the Confederation of the Dominican Sisters of Latin America and the Caribbean (CODALC), the Dominican Youth Movement (IDYM – MJD) and, of course, the Council of the Lay Dominican Fraternities of Latin America and the Caribbean (COFALC).
The Dominican Family is present in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela; six of the nine countries making up the area of “Querida Amazonia” and to which this new Exhortation is addressed. A goodly number of the Fraternities of the Order and of young Dominicans contribute to the Kerymga of faith with the Joy of the Gospel in this part of the world, which continues to be a challenge for the “Synergy of the Life and Mission” of the Order, as the General Chapter of Biên Hòa (2019) emphasised.
The formation of laypersons is a great challenge for the renewal of preaching. In this sense, both the Rule of the Lay Dominican Fraternities and the General Declarations (2019) define the main sources of Dominican formation: 1) the Word of God and theological reflection; 2) liturgical prayer; 3) the history and tradition of the Order; 4) the contemporary documents of the Church and the Order, and 5) the study of the signs of the times.
These five sources are an opportunity to continue moving forward in “the stable presence of mature lay leaders endowed with authorityand familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one”, as the Exhortation (n° 94) points out, and to experience the true meaning of contemplation in flowing Christ according to the spirituality and charism of the Order of Preachers.
Pope Francis points out in the Exhortation that the challenges of Amazonia “…demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity” (n° 94).
In this sense, there are a number of experiences in this perspective of “Querida Amazonia”. One of these is being fulfilled through the “Amazonian forests” programme, managed and accompanied by our brothers and sisters of the Dominican Family in Spain, who have given it the name “Amazionados por la dignidad de los pueblos indígenas” (Amazonified for the dignity of the indigenous peoples), motivating and inviting us to continue to make our contribution to our “Querida Amazonia”; it is a great opportunity to get to know, nourish and experience the charism of contemplation and preaching by means of commitment, social, cultural, ecological and ecclesiastic responsibility.
Juan Ubaldo LÓPEZ SALAMANCA, O.P.
Promoter General of the Laity
Rome, 7 March 2020
 Francis, post-synodal apostolic Exhortation. 2 February 2020. Accessed on: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20200202_querida-amazonia.html
 Red eclesial panamazónica. 28 February 2020. Accessed on: https://redamazonica.org
 PELLITERO, Ramiro. 2004. Contribution d’Yves Congar à la réflexion théologique sur les laïcs. Accessed on 2 March 2020 on the website of Scripta Theologica : https://revistas.unav.edu//index.php/scripta-theologica/article/view/13713
 Accessed on 12 March 2020 on press.vatican.va