By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis on Friday put the cause of the indigenous people of Amazonia in the heart of the Church, sharing their challenges and reaffirming a whole-hearted option for the defence of life, the earth and cultures.
“You are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home,” the Pope told some 4,000 natives of Amazonia gathered at the Madre de Dios indoor stadium at Puerto Maldonado, some 900 kms east of the Peruvian capital Lima.
Pope Francis chose the heartland of Peru’s Amazonia rainforest, known for its biodiversity, to highlight the cause of indigenous people. In a symbolic gesture, he handed them copies of his environmental encyclical “Laudato Si”, translated into their local languages.
Regarding Amazonia as sacred, the Pope recalled God’s words to Moses: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
He said the people of Amazonia are probably most threatened today, with great business interests eyeing its petroleum, gas, lumber, gold and forms of agro-industrial monocultivation, and certain distorted policies of “conservation” of nature usurping their habitat.
Noting that these problems strangle the natives and provoke the migration of the young due to the lack of local alternatives, the Pope called for breaking the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants.
Respect, recognition, dialogue
The Holy Father called for respect, recognition and dialogue with the native groups, acknowledging and recovering their native cultures, languages, traditions, rights and spirituality. And in this dialogue about their lands, he said, the natives themselves should be the principal partners, and that resources generated by conservation practices benefit their communities.
Pope Francis denounced illegal mining that causes environmental contamination. He also condemned slave labour and sexual abuse, especially violence against adolescents and against women.
Pope Francis also called for the defence and protection of some 64 indigenous groups of Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia (Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation) who in the face of extinction due of encroachment from the civilized world, have voluntarily chosen to live deeper in Amazonia.
Pope Francis called for the defence of the family that keeps cultures alive against the ideological forms of colonialism, saying “the disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal”.
In this regard, the Holy Father encouraged an education that does not erase indigenous traditions, languages,and ancestral wisdom.
The Pope commended efforts in this regard, and urged Amazonia’s natives to help shape a Church with an Amazonian face, a Church with a native face, which is why he has convoked the Synod for Amazonia in 2019.