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Irish missionary highlights destructive impact of mining in Amazon

By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 July, 2017

Columban missionary Fr Peter Hughes addressing the NJPN conference on the theme, ‘A Sabbath for the Earth and the Poor: The Challenge of Pope Francis’.

Laudato si’  is “a gift” from Pope Francis which provides a vision and a lens through which to open our eyes to the “tremendous challenges that humankind faces”, an Irish missionary who is involved in the Church’s efforts to combat the destruction of the Amazon rainforest has said.

Addressing the annual National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales’ conference at the weekend, Fr Peter Hughes, who has lived in Peru for decades, suggested that when writing the encyclical, the Pope had in mind Vatican II and chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel, which are focused on discerning the signs of the times with eyes of faith.

“This is our moment in history – we don’t belong to the past; we won’t be here in the future; we are connected to the past and connected with the future – but this is our time,” Fr Hughes said.

He said Pope Francis’ spirituality in Laudato si’  goes beyond the specific Judeo-Christian tradition, as the document is addressed to the whole human family – believers and non-believers and people of different faith traditions.

“He speaks very much to the ancient traditions and civilisations which all share a beautiful perspective and wisdom about life which Francis repeats time and time again. The great motif of the encyclical is ‘all things are connected’”.

The Co. Mayo-born priest told up to 260 justice and peace activists that Laudato si’  is a “call to action” and not about mere reflection or the teaching of an authoritative voice of a church leader.

He paid tribute to Pope Francis’ publication of the encyclical in May, ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2016.

“This is leadership; this is a church leader speaking before the agreement happened.”

Referring to Oxfam International’s report presented at Doha at the start of the year which revealed that 50 per cent of what is produced in the world is now in the hands of eight individuals, he said this was “frightening”.

The world is living in a culture of bankruptcy that is moral, ethical, spiritual, political and cultural, he warned.

NJPJ 2017 speakers (from left) Kathy Galloway, a former leader of both the Iona Community and Christian Aid Scotland; Ruth Valerio of Tearfund and Columban missionary Fr Peter Hughes.

One of Pope Francis’ great statements was his description of the economy as it currently operates as “a killer” which destroys creation and leaves people feeling that they have no place; that they are surplus or refuse that can be discarded.

In this throwaway culture, “consumerism has been brought to the point of madness”.

He said Pope Francis’ visit to the Amazon next January was a gesture of solidarity with the rainforest’s indigenous peoples who are struggling with illegal mining, child labour and human trafficking.

Outlining the work done by REPAM, Red Eclesial PanAmazonica, a church-sponsored initiative of which he is a board member, he said it aimed to “humanise the operations of extractive industries” by forcing companies to respect legislation and the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Church launched REPAM two years ago in the Amazon because “we are absolutely committed to making a small but significant contribution to stopping the destruction and the degradation that is going on,” Fr Hughes stated.

REPAM, he explained, had accompanied 13 indigenous leaders from the Amazon to Washington in March this year to participate in a public audience at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Washington DC and to meet members of Congress and the US bishops.

The indigenous leaders were able to explain how their lives have been affected by “the onslaught of the extractive industries [and] the destruction of their lands” and how they had been “reduced to oblivion in a very short time.”

Other speakers at the NJPN conference included Ruth Valerio of Tearfund, whose talk focused on the need for “inner ecological conversion” and Kathy Galloway, a former leader of both the Iona Community and Christian Aid Scotland, who compared her reaction to reading Laudato si’  to reading a poem by Walt Whitman.

She lamented that the poorest suffer most from environmental destruction when they have “drained resources the least, waste nothing, and don’t fly around the world”.

The Presbyterian laywoman urged delegates to live more sustainably and avoid “privatised religion” which does not engage with the struggles of the most marginalised.

Referring to Britain as one of the richest countries in the world, she also noted that it was one of the most unequal, with women bearing the brunt of austerity.

The author of Revaluing the Common Joys said Pope Francis’ encyclical was a “generous piece of writing” which drew together a global conversation in which all needed to take part.

Conference delegates also saw a performance of ‘Romero – the Heartbeat of El Salvador’ by Rise Theatre Company as Archbishop Oscar Romero was adopted as NJPN’s patron during the conference Mass.

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