German priest Paulo Suess, 81, arrived in Brazil over 50 years ago without speaking any Portuguese.
"I wanted to go where the poor were. We only saw it on television," he recalled.
He spent months in Belém studying the language and left for the Lower Amazon region, where he remained from 1966 to 1976. He taught theology in Manaus, worked at Pastoral da Terra and Cimi (Indigenous Missionary Council), where he is the theological advisor.
Linked to the Diocese of Augsburg (Germany), he is assigned to the Archdiocese of São Paulo and usually celebrates Mass in the Parish of Santa Rita de Cassia, in São Paulo.
Suess helped to prepare the working document of the Synod for the Amazon, an event convened by Pope Francis that will gather 250 bishops in the Vatican starting on Sunday (6).
Repam's document, Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, was prepared after interviewing indigenous people, riverine residents, and residents of the region - composed of nine countries.
The theologian also integrates the Brazilian group in the event. Suess, like the pope, argues that the church must "have an indigenous face." For this, it needs to expand its operations in the region. "It has to go from a visiting church to a church of presence," he said.
The presence, however, will only be viable with the ordaining of indigenous and riverine people, and permission for priests to marry. Women also need to be recognized with the ordination of deaconesses.
Church rites may include indigenous rituals, he argued. This could be different clothes for priests. "It doesn't have to be the Roman collar. But it won't happen from today to tomorrow. It's a long process," he said.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon