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Amazon Synod: ‘Still Listening and Contributing’

Briefing on Last Day of Discussions in Small Groups

Tuesday, October 22, 2019, was the last day for discussions within the small working groups of the Synod of the Amazon, reported Vatican News. The Secretary of the Synod Information Commission, Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa, said participants are “still listening and contributing”. The results will be handed over to those responsible for drafting the final document, and the Synod will vote on it on Saturday.

Ms. Judite da Rocha was the first to make her presentation. She is National Coordinator of the Movement for Victims affected by dams in Brazil. She highlighted the threats posed by hydroelectric power stations to fishermen and people living alongside rivers.

Ms. da Rocha gave examples of families left homeless, communities displaced, traditions and cultures destroyed. She spoke of the effect on women in the form of domestic violence and sexual harassment. We need to develop other ways to produce energy and power, she said.

Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, O.F.M., of Trujillo, is President of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference and CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Conference. He told journalists the Synod is drawing attention to both Nature and Humanity.

Nature is biodiversity and ecology, said the Archbishop, and it is not a coincidence the Synod is dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, who expressed his love for nature so eloquently. Human beings must return to enjoying a respectful relationship with nature, he said: respect for the earth “leads to union with God”.

According to Archbishop Cabrejos Vidarte, we need to “delve deeper and be more daring” when it comes to discussing existential topics and the centrality of the human person. Stressing the importance of “intercultural relationships”, he confirmed that issues affecting the nine countries of the Amazon “go beyond national borders”.

Bishop Karel Martinus Choennie of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, then gave his testimony. 92% of his country is still green forest, he said, but “if global warming continues” it will spell disaster for the Amazon. “Climate change affects us all”, said Bishop Choennie, giving the example of the “high incidence of hurricanes in the Caribbean”.

“Europe, America, China, and Japan must change lifestyles”, he warned, otherwise “we are on the path to self-destruction”. We need a new economy of “solidarity”, said the Bishop, because the present economy “kills and is unjust to the next generation”. He denounced what he called a lack of creativity and “political stagnation”, and concluded by urging those in power to find “real solutions”.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M. Cap., is Archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is at the Synod for the Amazon representing Africa and, specifically, the Congo Basin, he said. The Cardinal described similarities between the Amazon Region and the Congo Basin, saying they are both “endangered because of irresponsible exploitation”, and that people in both areas “risk being destroyed”.

The keywords of his presentation were “co-responsibility” and “accountability”. He too called for world leaders to be more responsible. While the Synod is “giving hope to humanity”, said Cardinal Besungu, as a Church “we must dare”.

A question about networking

Journalists present in the Holy See Press Office asked questions relating to different forms of networking, both inside and outside the Church.

Cardinal Besungu described coordinating efforts for the Congo Basin, and extending these to the whole of the Equatorial forest, literally “going beyond borders”.

Archbishop Cabrejos Vidarte spoke of already looking forward to “what happens next” and deciding how to apply the conclusions of this Synod. He expressed the desire to create a “lively and active” network in the form of an “ecclesial body” that would unite all the countries of the Amazon Region.

Ms. da Rocha described the effects of multinational companies exploiting natural resources: mental health issues, depression, even suicide. People are told to “leave or die”, she said, and the socio-cultural impact inflicts pain and suffering.

A question about a prophetic voice

Asked how the Church can speak with a more “prophetic voice”, Bishop Choennie suggested that “education is the answer”. He said there is “no realization of the urgency of the problem” and people are not willing to sacrifice their lifestyles.

The Bishop said there is a “contradiction” between wanting to save the forests, without wanting to change our lifestyles, including eating less meat.

Archbishop Cabrejos Vidarte stressed the need to focus on the commitment “to care for our common home”. He reiterated there is “a correlation between the Amazon and climate change”, and said this will be discussed at COP 25, the UN Climate Change Conference, scheduled to take place in December in Chile.

A question about initiatives

In terms of proposals and initiatives, Ms. Judite da Rocha recalled how the indigenous people of the Amazon have a “history of survival and resistance”. Governments, the Church, and society must work together, remembering “what already works and what already exists”, she said.

In this regard, Cardinal Besungu shared his experience in the DRC. The Church’s work with NGO’s and promotion of advocacy activities, led to the approval of a law in the United States under the Obama Administration, concerning the exploitation of mines in the Congo, he said. Still, the interests of large corporations make it difficult to apply legal decisions.

Which is why we need a “global approach”, and to show greater co-responsibility, said the Cardinal.

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