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Concerns about the world's changing climate were also on the agenda for an assembly of Catholic Bishops from the Amazon region that concluded today at the Vatican. The bishops made news with a proposal that married men in the Amazon be allowed to be ordained as priests. But as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, the major focus of the assembly, or synod, was the plight of the Amazon forest and the indigenous peoples who live in it.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing, unintelligible).
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Representatives from the Amazon attended Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. Many wore colorful headdresses and had stripes painted on their faces. In his homily, Pope Francis called for an end to the plunder of the Amazon and had strong words for those who consider indigenous peoples backward and of little worth.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) How much alleged superiority transformed into oppression and exploitation exists even today? The mistakes of the past were not enough to stop the plundering of other persons and the inflicting of wounds on our brothers and sisters and on our sister Earth.
POGGIOLI: The three-week-long synod ended with approval of a final document that echoed one of the pope's signature concerns - the fate of the Earth's environment. At a media briefing, Cardinal Michael Czerny, special secretary to the synod, said the bishops took to heart warnings they heard from climate change scientists. If the trees keep standing and the water keeps flowing, the cardinal said, there's hope for the Amazon and for all of us.
MICHAEL CZERNY: But if we insist on tearing down the trees and digging up the land because we can't live without the metals and the gold and the wood for our fancy furniture, you can fill out the rest.
POGGIOLI: Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst for Religion News Service, summarized the synod's message.
THOMAS REESE: Care for poor people, the marginalized, the indigenous people and care for the environment is part of the Gospel message today in the 21st century.
POGGIOLI: The topic that dominated media attention and the synod's most controversial was the proposal that to offset the shortage of clergy in the Amazon, married men who are proven leaders and already deacons in the church be allowed to be ordained as priests. Veteran Vatican analyst Marco Politi says this proposal, which like all the others passed with a two-thirds majority, opens new horizons in the Catholic Church.
MARCO POLITI: Because for the first time, there will be the possibility of married priests. It will not only apply to Amazoners (ph) but also to other parts of the world if the bishops' conferences ask for it.
POGGIOLI: A prospect that traditionalists vehemently oppose. The other controversial topic was the need to give more decision-making power in church affairs to women. On the first day of the synod, Columbian nun Sister Alba Teresa Cediel Castillo told reporters that while there are very few priests in the Amazon, women are a constant presence.
ALBA TERESA CEDIEL CASTILLO: (Through interpreter) What do we do? When priests are unavailable, we do everything from baptism to marrying couples and listening to confessions. We can't give absolution, but we listen and give comfort to the dying.
POGGIOLI: The final document did not directly call for women deacons but said it's urgent to promote and confer ministries for men and women in an equitable manner. In his closing comments to the synod, Francis made a blunt acknowledgment when he said we have still not grasped the significance of women in the church.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.