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The Church in Amazonia: Condemnation and Proclamation

It is three years since a meeting in Brasilia between the bishops of the region, priests, missionaries, lay people, representatives of Caritas and local Catholic organisations, when the Pan Amazonia Red Ecclesial (REPAM) was created. This instrument aimed at uniting the various ecclesial resources present in the nine Latin-American countries, including Amazonian territory. We discussed it with its executive secretary Mauricio López.

“REPAM represents a creative response from the pastoral point of view – López says – and also a calling in the Church to organise out the work in a region involving a particularly urgent challenge. It was no longer possible to respond in a disjointed and haphazard fashion”.

López continues: “Evaluating these first years, we see that REPAM has succeeded in overcoming differences and divisions and focussing on important matters. A real theology of creation, a theology of the incarnation which means recognising the living presence of the incarnate Christ in the midst of the most vulnerable situations of the peoples and communities of Amazonia which compels us to understand our pastoral vocation from the territorial perspective. We are speaking of a complex situation, an immense territory of over seven million square kilometres. It includes four hundred different indigenous peoples and nationalities speaking two hundred different languages”.

The Network’s method of work is important both at national level and that of the local churches. The Executive Secretary also affirms: “The restructuring of REPAM at the national level has brought about a change of structures within many local churches. This has created links between the religious and missionary congregations of the territory, the specialised institutions, episcopal structures and national Caritas groups. For example, in the area of human rights a school was set up to provide concrete means to those working in the territory – indigenous leaders and pastoral agents – so that they may follow the concrete situation also with institutional accompaniment and ratification. Furthermore, the ability to have a real impact at the highest level has been facilitated in the international environment, in specific areas of the United Nations and the Organisation of American States”.

With the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si’ in 2015, the network received new impulse in its progress. “REPAM identifies with the socio-political and socio-environmental appeals contained in the encyclical, – continues López – a universal appeal to the whole planet as a global responsibility which makes us all feel challenged. We have therefore chosen, formally and clearly the encyclical Laudato Sì’ as our single and central vision. All that REPAM does from now on will be to contribute to the actualisation, the increased understanding and the projection into the future of all the encyclical proposes. All of this is to be seen from the perspective of integral ecology, the great category offered to us by Pope Francis. It concerns ecology in daily life, human, social and environmental ecology, always in the perspective of justice for the following generations. It also means cultural ecology with priority given to the peoples who live in these territories who teach us the harmonious relationship with the common home.

One of the tasks of the Network is to make the voice of the seriously threatened peoples of Amazonia be heard. “It is very important to bring the voice of Amazonia to other peoples and territories, to ‘Amazonianise the world’, since this is the only way to become conscious of it and move from the exotic or folkloristic image of the indigenous peoples and understand them as true protectors of the future of humanity. All our actions at the global level have an impact on the life of these indigenous peoples. We are profoundly interconnected. Twenty per cent of non-frozen fresh water, suitable for human consumption, comes from this fragile area, and twenty per cent of the oxygen of the entire planet is generated there. The work of lessening the damage suffered by the indigenous peoples starts with changes in the consumer habits of the more westernised parts of society and of others that are adopting this style of consumerism en masse. The only way to remedy the situation is to face up to and respond to the present profound planetary inequality. If we consider that one per cent of the population of the planet holds ninety-nine per cent of all its wealth, we may begin to understand the real problem. The problem is one of distribution and excessive exploitation, not a shortage of resources”, López states.

On October 15, during the Angelus, Pope Francis announced the convening of a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, to be held in Rome in October 2019, to “identify new paths for the evangelization in the region. Particular attention will be paid to the indigenous people, often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future, and to the crisis of the Amazonian rain forest, considered one of the world’s “lungs”.” The Executive Secretary comments: “It will be truly a sign for our times to understand the need for these two conversions, pastoral and ecological. The great novelty of such a synod will lie in its territorialisation, starting from a biome that would invite us to go out of ourselves to respond to a terrible urgency since the situation is already unsustainable. As a sign, it will open the way to the possibility of a peaceful reformation of the Church not by encroaching on or changing existing structures but by inviting them to a renewal based on the urgent needs of the situation. The great sign value of this synod will be that they are already considering other territories from the viewpoint of this identity as biomes, as living systems. In this way there emerges a new perspective of Church which respects, embraces and welcomes the best of our tradition but which, at the same time, gives impetus and calls for a new way to respond to the urgent signs of the times. However, if we ordinary Christians do not make this transformation our own, it will just amount to a pleasant memory, an unsatisfied desire and a real situation of sin by omission”.

Next month, Pope Francis will travel to the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios in Peru: “Pope Francis is a bridge, he is the Pontiff, and each of his symbolic and concrete actions determines a pastoral, theological orientation, and even has a social dimension. The fact that he will set foot for the first time on Amazonian soil is a sign in favour of all the Church incarnate there. His presence is a sign for the whole of Amazonia, a sign indicating urgency. Moreover, it is also a presence that denounces a capitalistic model based on one’s self, on a culture of waste. His presence will have two aspects, that of condemnation and that of the proclamation of the hopes of the Church in Amazonia”, López concludes. (O.R.)

 

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