Jesuit Father Michael Czerny pointed out that, “as the Good Samaritan,” and through the forthcoming Synod on the Pan-Amazonian region, the Church puts into practice in Amazonia her commitment “with the compassion and justice of the Gospel.”
Father Czerny, Under-Secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, and Special Secretary of the Amazonian Synod, wrote an article entitled “The Church in Amazonia and Integral Human Development: Prophetic Commitment to the Dignity of All Human Beings,” published in the July 31, 2019 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, and translated by “Vatican News” the following day, August 1.
The Synod’s Commitment
According to this article, the Synod of Bishops entitled “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for An Integral Ecology,” convoked by Pope Francis, will make it possible to “initiate pastoral and environmental action in Amazonia, and reaffirm the way ‘of being Church,’ which such actions imply.”
The article also points out that the mentioned commitment of the Church is concretized especially in the last chapter of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL), the Synod’s working document, which “synthesizes the challenges and hopes of a prophetic Church in the Amazonian region.”
Pastoral Ministry and Integral Ecology
In the context of Amazonia, as Pope Francis highlights in the Encyclical Laudato Si’, “everything is connected,” the “social and the natural, the environmental and the pastoral cannot and must not be separated,” explains the article in L’Osservatore Romano, which adds that intellectual, spiritual, business and political reductionism “have endangered human life on earth, humanity’s common home.”
Therefore, the Synod is committed to solving this problem, to collaborating in the “healing” of the violations committed in the Amazonian territory, given that — as is included in the very title of the meeting, “New Paths for the Church and for An Integral Ecology,” and in the title of the IL’s last chapter, “The Prophetic Role of the Church and Integral Human Promotion” — pastoral ministry in the Church “is not separated from human promotion and integral ecology.”
Conditions of Amazonia
Both the Encyclical Laudato Si’ and the IL offer an exhaustive analysis of the conditions of the Amazonian region, summarized in Pope Francis’ following words: “Amazonia is a disputed land on various fronts: (. . .) the neo-extractive nature and strong pressure of the great economic interests, which focus their avidity on oil, gas, wood, gold, and agro-industrial monocultures.”
The causes of Amazonia’s situation are diverse. Father Czerny refers to “the local and multi-national <bodies>, which support and foment public or private extractive investment, at the cost of devastating impacts on the Amazonian environment and its inhabitants, so that, in fact, the indigenous communities “see their lands threatened by interests that exploit them and are often denied the right to their own land.”
Violation of Rights and Agreements
This constitutes a violation of International Law and Agreements, such as the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which the Holy Father has alluded on several occasions. The Declaration champions rights such as the free determination of the said communities (Article 3) and their autonomy in internal and local matters (Article 4).
In parallel, Article 6 of Agreement 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries of 1989, ”acknowledges their right not to be touched by legislative or administrative measures that can affect them directly, without their prior consultation (. . . ),” in order to give their free consent.
Deaths in the Indigenous Communities
The article goes on to lament the lack of recognition of the demarcations and titles of the Amazonian lands, which has resulted in “an alarming number of deaths caused by new illnesses or violent in nature.” Quoting the IL’s point 145, it states that “to question today the power in defense of the territory and of human rights is to risk one’s life, opening a path of cross and martyrdom.”
The IL also reported the 1,119 Indians killed between 2003 and 2017 in Brazil alone “for defending their territories.” Although there are several causes, in general, in any case, these deaths can be identified “as a consequence of environmental, social, structural causes and problems stemming from the lack of demarcation of territories and their invasion by powerful and violent outside interests.”
The Church’s Pastoral Role
The article goes on to state that in her pastoral role, the Church “works for the victims, is opposed to abuses and is called to defend justice and the poor. She also observes “with a critical conscience” how there are attitudes and realities in the indigenous peoples that aren’t evangelical.
In this regard, since the end of the 19th century, with Pope Leo XIII and later Vatican Council II and the Social Doctrine of the Church, the different Pontiffs have offered “clear guidelines.” And, in keeping with the Synod’s Special Secretary: “in response to a prevailing model of society, which produces exclusion and inequality, and an economic model that kills the most vulnerable and destroys the common home, the Church’s mission includes a prophetic commitment to justice, peace, the dignity of all human beings without distinctions, and to the integrity of creation.”
The text adds that the “good living” of the indigenous people depends fundamentally on “the demarcation of the Indian territories and their scrupulous respect.” Then, referring to Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, it reminds that the “fundamental task of politics is to ensure a just social order, and the Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the margin in the struggle for justice.”
Despite great difficulties, threats and promises present in Amazonia, Father Michael Czerny quotes Pope Francis’ words, which open the last chapter of the Synod’s IL for Amazonia: “From the heart of the Gospel we recognize the intimate connection that exists between evangelization and human promotion, which must necessarily express itself and develop in all evangelizing action.”