By Linda Bordoni
One of the participants in the Special Synod on the Amazon is an Irish Columban priest, who has spent over five decades as a missionary based in Latin America.
Father Peter Hughes, who has spent most of his life in Peru, has closely been engaged in the formation and in the development of the REPAM - the Church network for the defense of Amazonia - and also in the preparation for the ongoing Synod.
He told Linda Bordoni “it’s becoming crystal clear that the will of God, as expressed by Pope Francis, particularly through his documents and especially by Laudato Si”, that care for the planet and for all of its peoples “is at the heart of our Christian faith”.
Father Hughes said the Church has chosen to commit itself to the defense of the Amazon and its people “because of our love of God.”
“It’s our way to say thanks and it’s our way to give joy to the God of Creation, it’s to express our appreciation for Creation, in all its living creatures and all its marvelous manifestation on earth,” he said.
Noting that the Church has taken upon herself to highlight the need to care for the earth and defend a territory “that is so important and so under attack with all the aggression and the destruction of the environment and the dangers to the people who have lived there for thousands of years”, Fr Hughes suggested we should all take a step backward, “to the very basis of the Bible” which tells of the creation of the heavens and the earth.
He said this would allow us to take a major step forward during the life of the Church at this particular moment.
“I think – as many have said in the Synod – this is a very important moment in the life of the Church in which the Lord is calling us all to renew a spirit of our faith and our catholicity, to be involved in the care of Our Common Home,” he said.
The time for integral ecology
Father Hughes also specified that it means caring in particular for the people who are most vulnerable, the poor – the ones who are left out – and agreeing that “the way forward is what Pope Francis calls ‘integral ecology’ where the poor and the environment are united and integrated together”.
Involvement of the indigenous people in preparation for the Synod
Father Hughes said the level of involvement of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon has been very deep throughout the whole preparation process for the Synod. He said “they are very grateful, in particular to Pope Francis,” for creating this forum in which their voices are finally being heard.
87,000 indigenous voices recorded
He explained that the whole process of preparation lasted almost 2 years and that during that period, 45 territorial meetings were held in order “to give the opportunity to the whole church in the Amazon to come together with their bishops and to voice their suffering, their concerns, what they are living day-to-day as victims of the extractive industries that are treating their environment to the detriment of their health, their lands, their rivers.”
Their concerns, their fears and their feelings, he said, came across loud and clear during this preparation process.
“There is evidence for this in the more than 87 thousand voices recorded, of a deep sense of thanks, particularly to Pope Francis and to the Church for giving them the possibility, for the first time on such a great level, to be able to raise their voice, articulate their concerns, for the whole world, not just for the Catholic Church but for society at large,” he said.
The subjects of their own history
For the first time, Father Hughes noted, the indigenous people of the Amazon “have become the subjects of their own history, and they want a place at the table. They demand to be heard at the concert of nations.”
So, he pointed out, the Synod marks a key moment for the presence of the Amazonian people, not only in the life of the Church – but for the world at large - because as we are hearing in the Synod Hall, “the destruction of the environment implicates not just the Church but obviously the economic, the political and the cultural powers of us all.”
At the end of the second week of the three-week Synod, Father Hughes commented on the excellent spirit and atmosphere in the Assembly.
“The climate is very serious, people have prepared very well, and there is a tremendous recognition of the preparation process,” he said stressing his conviction that it is very important to constantly make the connection and the integration with the previous two years of listening.
“In that sense, I am very happy that there is a solid connection and integration between the bishops and their own people,” he said.
Father Hughes concluded underscoring that it is also important to point out that “the atmosphere is festive: one of joy, of a real sense of the Spirit present in the Synod”.