By Renee Smith
In his visit to Puerto Maldonado, Peru last year, Pope Francis issued a sobering statement: “The indigenous people of the Amazon region have never been threatened as they are now.”
At first, this may be a difficult statement to understand when First Peoples have been subject to genocide, poverty, brutality and disease at the hands of colonisers for centuries. The Holy Father however, and others worldwide, are recognising that the Amazon is on the brink of catastrophe.
At this meeting Pope Francis called on indigenous people of the Amazon to work with missionaries and bishops to shape a Church with an “Amazonian and indigenous face”. He pledged the Church’s “wholehearted option for the defence of life, the defence of the earth and the defence of cultures”, appealing to his audience to work together toward the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, carded for October 2019.
Peru is just one of nine territories spread across the Amazon region, totalling 34,000,000 inhabitants. The other territories are: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
The world’s most important ecosystem is now fragile as its rich resources have long been exploited by extractive industries—oil, gas, lumber, gold—and by cattle ranching and agri-business.
Large-scale infrastructural development has displaced or annihilated indigenous communities, damaging their ecosystem, economies and ancient cultures. They are rarely consulted, and have little power in negotiations.
Obtaining recognition of indigenous peoples’ right to their traditional lands has proven effective in protecting the rainforest but thousands of river-bank inhabitants alongside some afro descendants are forced to leave their homelands and live undocumented in the cities. Alcohol, drugs and crime, especially among males, and sexual exploitation among females also generate constant social conflicts.
This economic, social and political ferocity has been institutionalised throughout history. Slavery, exploitation and poverty are not only destroying the ecological richness of the Amazon, but also the cultural richness of its millenary peoples.
Three hundred and eighty different communities and nationalities with their own cultural identities occupy the Amazonian region, and continue living by its banks and lakes, hunting, fishing and planting crops, all of them united by the water of the Amazon River.
The forested areas which remain standing are a result of traditional populations who have secured the legal right to manage them. Many of the “secure” Amazonian communities fight for the defence of their culture, territories and rights. It is clear the indigenous movement plays an important role in the battle over the survival of this unique forest.
Towards a pastoral and ecological conversion
From a theological perspective, God, who created humankind in His own image and likeness, entrusts us the custody of creation, Our Common Home. Mankind, sin, rejection of the other, curse of the soil and even fratricide (killing of one’s own) are opposed to this possibility of harmony, but God does not abandon the work of His hands. The history of? salvation culminates in the person and mission of Jesus.
The celebration of the Eucharist invites us to rediscover in bread and wine; fruit of the earth and the work of human hands, a cosmic love, in which mankind gives thanks to God for the new life of the Risen Christ. The language of the Eucharist also celebrates the close knitted relationship between man and his environment.
When it comes to the environment, we must commit to being a Samaritan Church. Evangelising is one way of making God’s Kingdom present in the world. It necessitates compromise with our brothers and sisters, fighting against social inequalities, promoting social justice, solidarity, compassion and caring for one another and creation. This also means attentively listening to the outcry of the poor and nature. Today, the call of the Amazon people is similar to the outpouring of God’s people in Egypt when they were persecuted for attempting to defend their land.
The Amazon is our problem
Do you know we all drink and breathe the Amazon? It produces one third of all rainfall on our planet and a fifth of our oxygen. The Norwegian Rainforest Foundation describes it as “our vast green lung”, critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions adding. It is a “carbon sink”, preventing tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
Almost 20 per cent of the forest has been cut down in the last 50 years. It is a moral imperative, says Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’, to protect this great defence system. He urgently calls for a global ecological conversion by all that will turn away from the relentless consumption and restore a proper relationship with the earth.
The above article was compiled from a preparatory document issued by the Red Eclesial PanAmazonica (REPAM) —a Catholic Church network that promotes the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.
REPAM has been assigned to develop a territorial consulting process through this document for the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, to be held in the Vatican in October 2019. It is the first time the Pope has convened a Synod for a specific region, and it is directly linked to the work of REPAM. Laudato Si’ has also been adopted as a core document for REPAM.