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A phoenix in the Amazon

  • 4 November 2019

In the wake of the Amazonian Synod’s calls for a renewed commitment to protecting the regions rainforests, figures across the church have spoken out. Bishop McElory of San Diego, a participant in the three week-long Synod, said:

‘It’s important to save the Amazon because that’s emblematic for the future of our world, because as the Amazon goes, so goes the whole of the world’

Lamenting the lack of progress in tackling the issue of rainforest degradation he commented:

‘The rest of the world should be assisting the Amazon not only to preserve this treasure for the Amazon but for the world as a whole because it has an instrumentally very important role in assisting the environmental quality of the whole of the world. We’re not only not doing that…, we actually [are] contributing more to the problem.’

Voicing the opinion that this was a systemic issue motivated by economic gain, he decried the lack of global leadership on the issue:

‘The fact that fires are lit purposely as a matter of, some would say, approved national policy, economic policy, to burn parts of the Amazon forest to provide land to raise cattle to ship to foreign countries such as China, and the disappropriation of peoples from their land.’

‘We tend to put things off if they cause us to have to change lifestyles in certain ways or make sacrifices. We often do so in American society, and particularly at the level of decision-making where people don’t look at the long term; our political leaders don’t, often our socioeconomic and business leaders don’t. But on this issue, we can’t put things off a long time, particularly in the area of climate change’

Pope Francis took a similar view, noting the threat from ‘predatory models of development’ and the lessons from history:

‘The mistakes of the past were not enough to stop the plundering of other persons and the inflicting of wounds on our brothers and sisters and on our sister Earth: we have seen it in the scarred face of the Amazon region’

One of the proposals put forward by the Synod was to define ‘ecological sin’ as:

‘[A]n action or omission against God, against others, the community and the environment.’

‘It is a sin against future generations and manifests itself in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the environmental harmony, transgressions against the principles of interdependence and the breaking of solidarity networks among creatures and against the virtue of justice.’

One of the bright sparks out of the Synod has been the advocacy of Leah Casemiro, who brought many issues to the fore including the role of women in the Amazonian Church and the protection of indigenous culture. From Guyana, a region that Jesuit Missions has long held ties with, she spoke of the need to preserve indigenous language:

‘It’s so important we preserve our culture, as once that’s gone, we are just people without an identity. That’s why with the bilingual programme the children start from a very young age learning about their culture and traditions first’

Jesuit Missions has been supporting a bilingual education programme which allows children to study in their native language for the first few years of their education before gradually transitioning into English for later study. This preserves the native languages, as well as supporting children in their education.

Looking forward, it will be interesting to follow the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat Congress in Rome. This conference will address how the Society of Jesus will orientate itself towards the new Universal Apostolic Preferences, one of which being ‘Caring for our Common Home’.

This article has used quotes from articles from the America magazine by Gerard O’Connell (29/10/2019) and Fr Luke Hansen, SJ (24.10.2019).

Learn more here about Leah’s journey