Amazonia: a mirror of humanity
Stephanie Beech, Communications Officer at Jesuit Missions, recently visited Guyana where she attended the Pre-Pan-Amazonian synod coastal gathering on the 22nd and 23rd September in the capital Georgetown.
On my recent visit to Guyana I was struck by the multitude of cultures which have influenced this small country throughout the centuries. Despite being part of South America, it holds strong ties with the Caribbean both culturally and politically with the headquarters of CARICOM (Caribbean Community) based in the capital, Georgetown. Along the coastal strip, which despite inhabiting ninety percent of the Guyanese population encompasses only ten percent of the land mass, I could see the influences from the first Dutch settlers who developed the essential irrigation canal system, from the English who introduced the national language and Christian traditions, as well as from the Indian, African, Portuguese and Chinese labourers who have contributed to the food tastes and religious traditions. Indigenous communities make up the remaining ten percent of the population, who live away from this coastal strip, and their Amerindian culture is an integral part of the Pan-Amazonian region which expands over nine countries including Guyana.
Pope Francis states that,
“The Amazon is a region with rich biodiversity; it is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. It is a mirror of all humanity which in defence of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations and by the church.”
The culture of the indigenous people in Guyana, and their way of living in communion with nature, have never been as threatened than at present as large corporations try to take advantage of the resources and minerals found in the Amazon region, as well as the forced expansion of urban areas.
In response to this, the Pope has called all the Bishops of the Amazon together for a Pan-Amazonian synod in Rome in October 2019 which is entitled ‘New paths for the church and for an Integral Ecology’. This is an opportunity for the church to readdress and respond to some of the environmental injustices which is occurring across the Pan-Amazonian region.
This November the Jesuits in St Ignatius, an indigenous community in Guyana next to the Brazilian border, are hosting a pre-synodal assembly. An opportunity to gather representatives from communities across the whole of Guyana to reflect on where the church in Guyana and the church in Amazonia is going. Synod means journeying or coming together, and the church represents the people of God. Guyanese Jesuit scholastic, Joel Thompson SJ, says “We, the Catholic community in Guyana, are the church and the Pope wants us to think in new ways on our journey. This is a very exciting opportunity for us to listen to all the communities from across Guyana talk about their hopes and dreams for the future of the church, and also a chance to listen to their issues relating to the environment.”
At Jesuit Missions, we strive to support our brothers and sisters around the world in Caring for Creation following the message from Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si about Caring for our Common Home. We do this by speaking up against climate and environmental injustice. We recognise that as we look to the future, we will be relying more and more on the environment in which we live.
I attended the coastal gathering, prior to the assembly in St Ignatius, to join in the discussion with people from the thirty-nine coastal parish communities about current social and environmental issues which they are facing, and how they can work together as a whole country to develop one report which Bishop Francis (Guyana) can take to Rome next year.
The gathering, held at St Paul’s retreat centre in Georgetown, consisted of many young people, religious Sisters and Jesuit priests. It was really encouraging to witness the passion that people had when talking about the future of the church in Guyana.
Ronald Changyuen, one of the attendees said, “For us to move forward as a community and as a country, it is important that everyone works together to help create a better life for everybody, for our economy, for our planet and for us as human beings.”
Laudato Si Guyana (LSG) is a group of young people in Guyana who spread the messages of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si by going around different parishes and running environmental camps for young people. Gibion Moonsammy is part of this group and attended the coastal gathering. He says, “A lot of our development along the coast is as a result of what we get out of the Amazon. We have to recognise how we directly affect those who live in the Amazon. Fifty percent of the Catholic population in Guyana live in the interior, so as Catholics on the coast we have to pay keen attention as to how we affect our brothers and sisters and the wider society in the Amazon.”
Indigenous people across the Amazon basin have lived in harmony with the environment for hundreds of years. The Pan-Amazonian synod is an opportunity for the rest of the world to listen to these people and learn from their stories as to how we can take better care for our common home. Joel repeated the words of Pope Francis when he told me that,
This article first appeared in Jesuits&Friends #101.