By Sarah Mac Donald - 17 October, 2017
Amazon's indigenous people are “often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future because of the crisis of the Amazonian rain forest, a ‘lung’ of primary importance for our planet.”
Pope Francis has announced a special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region which will focus on the needs of the Amazon’s indigenous people, as well as on the crisis of the rain forest and on new paths for evangelisation.
Speaking on Sunday during his weekly Angelus address, the Pope said the main purpose of the Amazon synod will be to “identify new paths for the evangelisation of God’s people in that region”.
However, he also stressed that special attention will be paid to the indigenous people who are “often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future, because of the crisis of the Amazonian rain forest, a ‘lung’ of primary importance for our planet.”
He said the synod would take place in Rome in October 2019.
In 2014, the Church in Pan-Amazonia founded a Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM) as “God’s answer to this heartfelt and urgent need to care for the life of people so they are able to live in harmony with nature, starting from the widespread and varied presence of members and structures of the Church in Pan-Amazonia”.
REPAM is constituted not only by the regional Bishops’ Conferences, but also by priests and missionaries from congregations who work in the Amazon jungle, as well as national representatives of Caritas and laypeople belonging to various church bodies in the region.
In July, Irish missionary Fr Peter Hughes addressed the NJPN conference in the UK. In his keynote address he described Pope Francis’ visit to the Amazon next January as 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, which he is a board member of, Fr Hughes said it aimed to “humanise the operations of extractive industries” by forcing companies to respect legislation and the rights of indigenous peoples.
The Columban missionary said the Church launched REPAM 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.”
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.”
The Amazon territory is the largest tropical forest in the world. It covers six million square kilometers and includes the territories of Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil.
It is home to 2,779,478 indigenous people, comprising 390 indigenous tribes and 137 isolated (uncontacted) peoples with their valuable ancestral cultures, and 240 spoken languages belonging to 49 linguistic families.
According to REPAM, it is “a territory that is devastated and threatened by the concessions made by states to transnational corporations. Large-scale mining projects, monoculture and climate change place its lands and natural environment at great risk”, leading to the destruction of cultures, undermining the self-determination of peoples and above all affronting Christ incarnate in the people who live there (indigenous and riparian peoples, peasant farmers, afro-descendants and urban populations).