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Pope Francis greets representatives of indigenous communities of the Amazon basin during a visit to the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado in January 2018 Pope Francis greets representatives of indigenous communities of the Amazon basin during a visit to the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado in January 2018  (AFP or licensors)

Scalabrinian missionaries decry killing of indigenous leader in Amazon Rainforest

Missionaries in Brazil say the murder of an indigenous leader in the country’s rainforest sounds the alarm on recent policies that have opened up protected Amazon territory to mining.

By Linda Bordoni

Scalabrinian Missionaries in Brazil say the murder of an indigenous leader in the Amazon shines the light on a “truly alarming” situation that allows for the destruction of an extraordinary habitat for economic gain.

Emrya Wajãpi, leader of the indigenous Wajãpi people, was killed on July 23 in Amapá, a region in the far north of Brazil, bordering French Guyana. 

According to witnesses he was stabbed to death by gold miners who entered the protected reserve of the Wajãpi community.

90% of the Amapá region is covered by the Amazon Rainforest and much of the area is officially protected, but recent government policy has opened the Amazon up to mining and this has led to growing encroachment on indigenous land – especially forests – by miners, loggers and farmers.

In a statement released after Emrya Wajãpi’s murder, Sr. Neusa de Fatima Mariano, superior general of the Scalabrinians, condemned his killing which she described as the “fruit of hate campaigns perpetrated against indigenous peoples.”

Calling it an “operation to destroy the indigenous peoples of Brazil,” Sr Neusa said “It is incredible how today there are exploiters of natural riches who, for their economic interests, have the possibility of entering the northern Amazon Forest and of killing a leader of the Wajãpi community.”

She said they are openly allowed “to invade a territory, destroy a society, and devastate an extraordinary habitat”.

Appeal to support the rights of indigenous people

Sr Neusa went on to declare the support of her Order for a campaign launched by the Brazilian bishops' Indigenous Missionary Council: "We support the campaign of the Cimi, the Indigenous Missionary Council linked to the Brazilian Episcopal Conference that has condemned without half measures the operation conducted so far."

The Brazilian Bishops' Pastoral Land Commission also condemned the attack as deplorable. "We denounce that the criminal and violent action that took place on Sunday was planned and articulated by farmers and gunmen of the region, who, through a text in WhatsApp, called people to attack the Indigenous," said a press statement.

Sr Neusa expressed her belief that instead of nurturing hate talk, the Brazilian government should “encourage respect for indigenous peoples, take measures against the 'invasion of their land, uphold their rights”.

Rights monitors have denounced the killing of Emrya Wajãpi and expressed concern that it is part of a global trend of attacks on environmentalists.

Statistics show that in 2018, more than 160 land and environmental defenders were killed—many of them Indigenous.

Pan-Amazon Synod of Bishops

Highlighting his own, and the Church’s concern for our common home and for the rights and dignity of all peoples,  Pope Francis has called for a Special Assembly for the Amazon of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology that will take place in the Vatican in October 2019.

31 July 2019, 17:38