What has Pope Francis said about the Amazon?
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
On his first Apostolic Journey outside of Italy, Pope Francis met on 28 July with the Bishops of Brazil. There, he spoke of the Amazon basin as a “litmus test” for both the Church as well as society.
“…There is one final point on which I would like to dwell, which I consider relevant for the present and future journey not only of the Brazilian Church but of the whole society, namely, the Amazon Basin. The Church’s presence in the Amazon Basin is not that of someone with bags packed and ready to leave after having exploited everything possible. The Church has been present in the Amazon Basin from the beginning, in her missionaries, religious congregations, priests, laity and Bishops and she is still present and critical to the area’s future. I think of the welcome which the Church in the Amazon Basin is offering today to Haitian immigrants following the terrible earthquake which shook their country.
“I would like to invite everyone to reflect on what Aparecida said about the Amazon Basin, its forceful appeal for respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden. In considering the pastoral challenge represented by the Amazon Basin, I have to express my thanks for all that the Church in Brazil is doing: the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon Basin established in 1997 has already proved its effectiveness and many dioceses have responded readily and generously to the appeal for solidarity by sending lay and priestly missionaries. I think Archbishop Jaime Chemelo, a pioneer in this effort, and Cardinal Hummes, the current President of the Commission. But I would add that the Church’s work needs to be further encouraged and launched afresh. There is a need for quality formators, especially formators and professors of theology, for consolidating the results achieved in the area of training a native clergy and providing priests suited to local conditions and committed to consolidating, as it were, the Church’s ‘Amazonian face’. In this, please, I ask you, be courageous, and have parrhesia! In the ‘porteño’ language [of Buenos Aires], be fearless.”
As early as September 2017, when Pope Francis visited Colombia, Pope Francis began to speak about the challenges facing the Church in the Amazon. When meeting with the Bishops of Colombia gathered on 7 September, the Pope asked the Bishops not to abandon the Church in that area of their country:
“…I want to offer my thoughts concerning the challenges facing the Church in Amazonia, a region of which you are rightly proud, because it is an essential part of the remarkable biodiversity of this country. Amazonia is for all of us a decisive test whether our society, all too often prey to materialism and pragmatism, is capable of preserving what it freely received, not to exploit it but to make it bear fruit. I think particularly of the profound wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, and I ask myself if we are still capable of learning from them the sacredness of life, respect for nature, and the recognition that technology alone is insufficient to bring fulfilment to our lives and to respond to our most troubling questions.
“For this reason, I encourage you not to abandon the Church in Amazonia to itself. Creating an ‘Amazonian face’ for the pilgrim Church in this land is a challenge for all of you; and it calls for an increasingly conscious missionary support on the part of all the dioceses and the entire clergy of the nation. I am told that in some native Amazon languages the idea of ‘friend’ is translated by the words, ‘my other arm’. May you be the other arm of Amazonia. Colombia cannot amputate that arm without disfiguring its face and its soul.”
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
On Friday, 19 January 2018, in the midst of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis met with a group of indigenous people living in the Amazon. Speaking in Puerto Maldonado, the heartland of Peru’s Amazonia region, Pope Francis called for the defence of the rights, dignity and land of the indigenous people:
“… Allow me to say once again: “Praise to you, Lord, for your marvellous handiwork in your Amazonian peoples and for all the biodiversity that these lands embrace!
“This song of praise is cut short when we learn about, and see, the deep wounds that Amazonia and its peoples bear. I wanted to come to visit you and listen to you, so that we can stand together, in the heart of the Church, and share your challenges and reaffirm with you a heartfelt option for the defence of life, the defence of the earth and the defence of cultures.
“The native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present. Amazonia is being disputed on various fronts. On the one hand, there is neo-extractivism and the pressure being exerted by great business interests that want to lay hands on its petroleum, gas, wood, gold and forms of agro-industrial monocultivation. On the other hand, its lands are being threatened by the distortion of certain policies aimed at the ‘conservation’ of nature without taking into account the men and women, specifically you, my Amazonian brothers and sisters, who inhabit it. We know of movements that, under the guise of preserving the forest, hoard great expanses of woodland and negotiate with them, leading to situations of oppression for the native peoples; as a result, they lose access to the land and its natural resources. These problems strangle her peoples and provoke the migration of the young due to the lack of local alternatives. We have to break with the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants….
“The culture of our peoples is a sign of life. Amazonia is not only a reserve of biodiversity but also a cultural reserve that must be preserved in the face of the new forms of colonialism. The family is – as one of you said – and always has been, the social institution that has most contributed to keeping our cultures alive. In moments of past crisis, in the face of various forms of imperialism, the families of the original peoples have been the best defence of life. Special care is demanded of us, lest we allow ourselves to be ensnared by ideological forms of colonialism, disguised as progress, that slowly but surely dissipate cultural identities and establish a uniform, single… and weak way of thinking. Please listen to the elderly. They possess a wisdom that puts them in contact with the transcendent and makes them see what is essential in life. Let us not forget that ‘the disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal’. The one way for cultures not to disappear is for them to keep alive and in constant movement.”
To the National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies
In June 2018, Pope Francis met with the National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies during their General Assembly. In the context of the Extraordinary Missionary month taking place in October 2019, Pope Francis spoke about the Synod on the Amazon taking place the same month:
“…As you know, in October 2019, the Extraordinary Missionary Month, we will celebrate the Synod for the Amazon. In response to the concerns expressed by many of the faithful, laity and pastors alike, I wished to convoke this meeting in order to pray and reflect on the challenges faced in the evangelization of these South American lands that are home to important particular Churches. I hope that the conjuncture of these two events may help us fix our gaze on Jesus Christ while addressing problems and issues, resources and needs; may it also help us renew our commitment of service to the Gospel for the salvation of the men and women living in those lands. We pray that the Synod for the Amazon can help provide a more evangelical approach to missionary work in this area of the world that is so troubled, so unjustly exploited and so much in need of the salvation of Jesus Christ.”
Third anniversary of Laudato Si’
Later the same year, on 6 July, Pope Francis met with participants of an International Conference organized to mark the third anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’. Some of his remarks on the occasion connected last year’s Synod on Young People to this year’s Synod on the Pan-Amazon region:
“Finally, dialogue and commitment to our common home must make special room for two groups of people at the forefront of efforts to foster an integral ecology. Both will be at the centre of the next two Synods of the Catholic Church: young people and indigenous peoples, especially those from the Amazon region.
“On the one hand, ‘Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded’ (Laudato Si’, 13). It is the young who will have to face the consequences of the current environmental and climate crisis. Consequently, intergenerational solidarity ‘is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us’ (ibid., 159).
“Then too, ‘it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions’ (ibid., 146). It grieves us to see the lands of indigenous peoples expropriated and their cultures trampled on by predatory schemes and by new forms of colonialism, fuelled by the culture of waste and consumerism (cf. Synod of Bishops, Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology, 8 June 2018).”