By Linda Bordoni
“Amazonia: new pathways for the Church and for an integral ecology” is the theme announced by Pope Francis for the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Pan-Amazon Region.
That title contains a really strong call to undertake new action because, as the Pope has warned repeatedly in various occasions, failure to act and make radical changes in lifestyles and energy consumption will have grave consequences for all of us.
That’s why, in accordance with Latin American bishops he convened a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will involve prelates and consultants from Latin America’s Pan-Amazon region.
One of the 18 members of the pre-Synodal Council which is tasked with collaborating with the General Secretariat in the preparation of the Special Assembly, is Mauricio Lopez, Executive Secretary of REPAM, the Pan-Amazon Ecclesiastical Network.
Speaking to Linda Bordoni he said that the Church in the Amazon feels empowered and accompanied in its work by Pope Francis.
What REPAM does
Lopez explained first of all that to be able to understand the mission and the work of REPAM, it is essential to connect the network to the identity of the territory it represents.
“The Amazon region integrates 9 different countries, (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Surinam)” he said.
Covering 7 million square kilometers, Lopez said it is “a huge place where the Church tries to respond to the challenges and the cries of the people” and explained that it is home to some 33 million people, of which 3 million of them represent indigenous communities from almost 400 different tribes or groups.
“Each one of them with such richness, identity and diversity. So we really have to recognize the richness and what is there and also at the same time there is a big number of people already living in the cities” he said.
Lopez said that urbanization is growing resulting in the fact that some of those groups are more and more under threat “especially those who we describe as ‘in voluntary isolation’ or non-contacted indigenous communities”.
“In the world there are about 140 ‘un-contacted indigenous communities’, 130 of them are in the amazon region” he said.
He said some of them have never had contact with the western world while others have had some contact and have decided not to have contact anymore and to remain apart.
It is especially these communities, he added, who are being threatened by the increased use of monoculture in the agro-business, extractive industries and so forth.
Pope Francis’ visit to Puerto Monaldo
Lopez commented on how important Pope Francis’ visit to the Amazon city of Puerto Monaldo was last January.
“We were very happy to have Pope Francis visiting the Amazon for the first time in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. It made a huge impact” he said.
Lopez recalled that the Pope has being talking about the importance of the Amazon since the beginning of his papacy, but he said having him there in flesh and bones was very important.
“For the first time he actually mentioned the ‘uncontacted tribes” so that is very important and it opens new paths for the Church” he said as he was personally present to listen to them and to hear their cries and their challenges. Only, after having done that – he said - he responded.
The Church has being working for them.
Lopez said that meanwhile the Church has been working for the threatened peoples of the Amazon rainforest, reaffirming their dignity, their right to self-determination and the right to affirm their culture.
And now, he said , the Pope’s appeal makes all this so much more universal and “We feel much more accompanied and invited to continue what we do”.
“The fact that he has called for a Synod for the Amazon is making a point of the universality of the call to respond to and respect the reality of the indigenous people on the one hand and on the other to protect and defend this territory” he said.
The future of the planet hinges on how we respect and defend the environment
“The future of the world relies on how we respect and defend not only the Amazon, but also the Congo Basin, the Asia-Pacific tropical forest, Central America” Lopez said, because they are the lungs and the water of our planet.
All this, he explained is completely connected to you: “your life and your decisions are completely connected with what happens there”
Lopez said he never tires of pointing out to people that 20% of the planet’s water comes from the Amazon meaning that 1 out of 5 glasses of water that any person drinks every day is thanks to the Amazon; 25% of the oxygen produced on the planet comes from the Amazon meaning that 1 out of 4 breaths every living creature in this word takes, is thanks to the Amazon.
“So when you say ‘this has nothing to do with me’ you must think again” he said.
Destruction, pollution, deforestation
Pointing out that the destruction, pollution and deforestation are on the increase, Lopez said the way our economies are organized and the way we are creating inequality in the world has a huge impact this territory.
“The mining industry continues to operate without any type of control; it is taking the Sacred lands of the indigenous peoples, and when they try to resist they, many of them have been murdered or persecuted and things are getting worse” he said.
Lopez said the Amazon is the region in which with the highest rate of inequality in the world, and reflected on the fact that today “8 families on the planet hold half of the wealth that exists, or 1% of the population holds 99% of total wealth on the planet: so the problem is not about resources but inequality – the throwaway culture that Pope Francis speaks about”.
Hope for the Synod
Looking to the upcoming Synod of Bishops Lopez said he believes that Pope Francis is talking about two major conversions in the itinerary he has offered to the Church: one is the pastoral conversion, the need for a Church that goes forth and responds to the throwaway culture in the light of the social element as our mission as Church (as elaborated upon in “Evangelii Gaudium”); and the second is the need for a social and environmental conversion which is expressed in “Laudato Sì".
“As he said to the Bishops of Brazil when he was there for World Youth Day in 2013: If we fail in the Amazon, then we might have failed completely” he said.
Describing the Syond as a process, Lopez said it is not considered as something separate, “ it is all interconnected,” part of the evolution of the Church stemming from the Second Vatican Council, from the previous papacies.
So, far “we have failed as humankind and also as Church to respond properly to these issues” he said.
All this is part of the social teaching of the Church
Lopez was at pains to stress that attention for the environment is not just something ‘trendy’ or something that at this moment in time is to be spoken about: it is part of the social teaching of the Church.
“The Synod will be a place and moment that we call a ‘Kairos’: the right moment in time where Pope Francis is inviting the Church to express concretely and specifically in a territory those conversions he is speaking about” he said.
Pope's voice reaching all forums and leaders of all faiths
Commenting on how he has witnessed the fact that at so many international events and meetings dealing with the protection of the environment and the need to combat climate change, experts of all fields refer to ‘Laudato Sì’.
“It is touching, he said, to see Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish representatives from the worldwide coordination of those faiths speaking about how grateful they are to Pope Francis for producing and presenting ‘Laudato Sì” and said that at the COP15 in Paris it was very clear that support that this global discussion needed at this particular moment in time came from the role of Pope Francis as a universal voice.