The subject came up yesterday, according to Vatican News:
Bishop Wilmar Santin spoke of his personal experience ministering in an area that covers 175 thousand square km. His prelature was established in 1988, he said, but the Church’s work with the indigenous peoples dates back to 1910 or 1911. It was the Franciscans who began working there. They were followed by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the same Congregation as Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes who will be canonized this Sunday.
Bishop Wilmar told the story of how the indigenous people did not want to approach the missionaries at first, until a Franciscan missionary won them over by playing his flute. Most of the people in the area where Bishop Santin ministers are baptized in the Catholic Church, he said. A Baptist mission headed by a Swiss couple is also there. The relationship between the Catholic missionaries and pastors of the Baptist Church has always been good, he added. They have been collaborating under a banner of dialogue since 1963.
The Bishop’s said his experience and intention has been to intensify the indigenous pastoral ministry. He spoke of how the local Church is putting into practice “what the Pope is calling us to do”: namely, that it should be the indigenous peoples themselves who shape the Church in the Amazon. An important aspect, said Bishop Wilmar, is that the people he works with should have their own leaders. Until now, these have always been foreigners. Pope Francis, said the Bishop, told someone how he dreamed of seeing an indigenous priest in every village. When Bishop Wilmar asked how to fulfill that dream, the Pope said he should start with what the Church already allows: the permanent diaconate. Which is what they decided to do. They developed a plan with an Italian priest who had worked in the indigenous missions in Amazonia all his life. The first step involved creating Ministers of the Eucharist, then ministries that Deacons perform in order to move toward being ordained as Deacons. They chose to begin with the Ministry of the Word, as the Eucharist cannot be preserved in these territories for very long. Formation for Ministers of the Word began in November 2017. 20 men and 4 women were appointed and began preaching the word of God in their own language.
This past March, Bishop Santin said he returned to that village and found another 24 Ministers of the Word, making a total of 48, who preach in their local language. The Bishop said it filled him with joy as he thought of the day of Pentecost when so many heard about the wonders of God, in their own language. This type of formation is advancing toward forming Ministers to baptize, and later to witness marriages, he said. The local people give great importance to the Sacrament of Baptism, he added, and they want to be married in Church. They desire God’s blessings. Which is why there have to be ministers to perform baptisms and marriages in every village. This will help the people very much, concluded Bishop Santin and in the future, hopefully, the ordination of deacons will be possible.
It sounds as if the people the bishop described (both men and women) are lay catechists who are exercising many of the non-sacramental functions of diaconal ministry without being ordained (but that the addition of sacramental duties, involving performing baptisms and witnessing marriages, are being planned).