Ahead of the 2019 Synod for the Amazon, Pope Francis has told some 4,000 indigenous peoples in the Amazon region of Peru, that he wanted to be with them to share their challenges and reaffirm them with “a wholehearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”
Pope Francis, during his visit to the South American countries of Chile and Peru, his 22nd Apostolic Trip, stressed this in his address to indigenous people of the Amazon region in the “Coliseo Regional Madre de Dios” in Peru today, Jan. 19, 2018.
Greeting the inhabitants of the Amazon, the Pope remembered, and had distributed, his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si, on care for our common home, and expressed his gratitude for what they do to protect the planet.
“Allow me to say once again,” the Pope said, “‘Praise to you, Lord, for your marvelous handiwork in your Amazonian peoples and for all the biodiversity that these lands embrace!”
The Pope went on to lament that native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present. “I consider it essential to begin creating institutional expressions of respect, recognition and dialogue with the native peoples, acknowledging and recovering their native cultures, languages, traditions, rights and spirituality.” The Pope called for an intercultural dialogue in which those before him would be ‘the principal dialogue partners,’ especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.
“Recognition and dialogue will be the best way to transform relationships whose history is marked by exclusion and discrimination.”
Defense of Life
“The defense of the earth,” the Pontiff said, “has no other purpose than the defense of life.” The Pope acknowledged some of their suffering caused by emissions of hydrocarbons, which threaten lives and contaminate your natural environment.
“Along the same lines, there exists another devastating assault on life linked to this environmental contamination favoured by illegal mining. I am speaking of human trafficking: slave labour and sexual abuse.
“Violence against adolescents and against women cries out to heaven. ‘I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry, ‘Where is your brother?’ (Gen 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved?”
“Let us not look the other way,” the Pope appealed. “There is greater complicity than we think. This issue involves everyone!”
This concern gives rise to our basic option for the life of the most defenseless, the Pope said, noting he thinks especially of the peoples referred to as “Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation” (PIAV).
“We know that they are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Their primitive lifestyle made them isolated even from their own ethnic groups; they went into seclusion in the most inaccessible reaches of the forest in order to live in freedom. Continue to defend these most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Their presence reminds us that we cannot use goods meant for all as consumerist greed dictates. Limits have to be set that can help preserve us from all plans for a massive destruction of the habitat that makes us who we are.”
The recognition of these people, the Pope said, reminds us that we are not the absolute owners of creation. “We need urgently to appreciate the essential contribution that they bring to society as a whole, and not reduce their cultures to an idealized image of a natural state, much less a kind of museum of a bygone way of life.”
Their cosmic vision and their wisdom, the Jesuit Pope stressed, have much to teach those of us who are not part of their culture.
“The culture of our peoples is a sign of life. The Amazon is not only a reserve of biodiversity but also a cultural reserve that must be preserved in the face of the new forms of colonialism. The family is, and always has been, the social institution that has most contributed to keeping our cultures alive. In moments of past crisis, in the face of various forms of imperialism, the families of the original peoples have been the best defense of life.”
The Pope also urged all present to listen to the elderly, noting they possess a wisdom that puts them in contact with the transcendent and makes them see what is essential in life.
Education, the Pope said, helps us to build bridges and to create a culture of encounter. “Schooling and education for the native peoples must be a priority and commitment of the state: an integrated and inculturated commitment that recognizes, respects and integrates their ancestral wisdom as a treasure belonging to the whole nation.”
The Pope went on to ask his brother bishops to continue, as they are doing even in the remotest places in the forest, to encourage intercultural and bilingual education in the schools, in institutions of teacher training, and in the universities. He expressed his appreciation of the initiatives that the Amazonian Church in Peru helps carry out in favour of the native peoples.
“How many missionaries, men and women, have devoted themselves to your peoples and defended your cultures!” he said, noting they did so inspired by the Gospel. “Christ himself took flesh in a culture, the Jewish culture, and from it, he gave us himself as a source of newness for all peoples, in such a way that each, in its own deepest identity, feels itself affirmed in him. Do not yield to those attempts to uproot the Catholic faith from your peoples.”
Synod for the Amazon in 2019
Each culture and each worldview that receives the Gospel, the Pope said, enriches the Church by showing a new aspect of Christ’s face.
“The Church is not alien to your problems and your lives, she does not want to be aloof from your way of life and organization. We need the native peoples to shape the culture of the local churches in the Amazon.” The Pope encouraged those present to help their bishops, and the men and women missionaries, to be one with them, and in this way, “by an inclusive dialogue, shape a Church with an Amazonian face, a Church with a native face.”
In this spirit, the Pope said he convoked a Synod for the Amazon in 2019.
“I trust in your peoples’ capacity for resilience and your ability to respond to these difficult times in which you live. You have shown this at different critical moments in your history, with your contributions and with your differentiated vision of human relations, with the natural environment and your way of living the faith.”
Pope Francis concluded, saying he would pray for them, for this land blessed by God, and reminding them to pray for him.