In October 2017, when Pope Francis announced a Vatican synod on the Amazon region "to identify new paths for the evangelization of God's people in that region," few people beyond those who had to attend marked it on their calendars. But over the course of the last two years, as the church prepared for the synod, which will run from Oct. 6 to 27 in Rome, it's become clear there may be no more important meeting in Francis' entire papacy.
One item among the 146 topics on the agenda listed in the 45-page working document has eclipsed all others–including the pope's focus on climate change and poverty. That is whether or not to allow married "viri probati"–men of proven virtue–to be ordained as priests for the purpose of delivering the big sacraments: baptism, confession, weddings and funerals, in far flung areas where no priests are present.
Bishop Rafael Cob, apostolic vicar of Puyo, Ecuador, who will be attending the synod in Rome, said that the Church must "respond to a concrete challenge in a concrete reality."
"The Amazon is a geographically difficult region to evangelize, first because of its distance, its inaccessibility," he told reporters at a press conference in Rome. "But there also is a lack of candidates who can or want to be priests with the issue of celibacy. So, logically, the Church is looking for new methods to respond to concrete challenges."