The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region will take place in Rome from October 6—27, 2019. Its topic: Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology. I’m interested in this Synod because it will address grave issues of these times: ecological disasters caused by unregulated and unauthorized development, exploitation, egregious violations of human rights, and the dignity of vulnerable Amazonian and Andean indigenous communities.
The Amazon Basin, roughly the size of the contiguous U.S., with a population of 2.8 million, divided among 400 tribes, includes all or parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname. It includes the world’s largest tropical rain forest covering 21 million square miles, and is unmatched for its biodiversity and influence on the health of the entire planet.
Currently, climate change and the increase in human intervention – deforestation, fires, and changes in the use of land – along with forced population displacement and pollution, are putting its ecosystems at risk, exerting pressure on local cultures, and driving the Amazon to a point of no return.
The key discussion points for the Synod will be:
- The threat to life in the Amazon region by environmental destruction and exploitation.
- Systematic violations of the fundamental rights and traditions of the indigenous people such as the right to land, self-determination, and prior consent.
- Possible suggestions for greater access to the Eucharist in a region with few priests. (This point is covered extensively elsewhere)
Challenges to be examined by the Synod are:
- The concept of “development” projects is questioned, especially concerning who benefits and who suffers violence.
- Certain industries are called out such as mining and logging, hydro-electric dams, large-scale agriculture, conservation projects which are more concerned with protecting ecosystems than human and territorial rights, the criminalization of and violence against people who protest these projects.
- Drug and arms trafficking, corruption, violence against women, forced migration, and the exploitation of indigenous people and their territories.
The Synod will reflect on system challenges that require holistic solutions such as “integral health”. This recognizes that human health and the health of other species are deteriorating because of extractive industries (industries that remove product from one country to sell in another such as deforestation or mining) that introduce new diseases, toxic exposures, and deforestation. Everything is related to everything else because all exists as one living being, e.g. when we subject a forest to mining, the water becomes contaminated, the animals become homeless, the health of human beings is damaged, and ultimately, communities are fractured. Nothing is done in isolation; every action has repercussions on everything and everyone. Clean water, air, food, access to gathering, hunting, and fishing are named as essential to integral health, as is access to indigenous and traditional medicine.
The commitment to caring for the earth and defending the human rights of its inhabitants can be dangerous. Some political leaders in the Amazon Region (and probably their sponsors in the U.S.), view the Synod as an attack on their sovereignty. Even a Catholic bishop has called it pagan.
Many people who defend the Amazon face serious threats. Currently the members of CIMI (The Catholic Church’s Indigenous Missionary Council) are in hiding for fear of their lives. The number of martyrs in the Amazon is enormous. The church must support those who risk their lives for others, and remember its martyrs, among whom are women leaders such as U.S. born Dorothy Stang, SSND who defended the land rights of the poor and was assassinated in Brazil in 2005.
The Amazon Basin is one example of situations that are common to many areas of our planet. We look forward to learning from the Synod for Amazonia about ways to balance technology, consumption, ecology and human rights.
In writing this blog I relied heavily on the following resources, and am very grateful for the material:
Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns
Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns Newsletter 7/19. “Synod for the Amazon: What to Expect”
National Catholic Reporter. 6/28—7/11/19. “Amazon Synod Document Raises Possibility of Married Priests” Catholic News Service: Junno Aocho Estevens
REPA–Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network
CELAM—Council of Latin American Bishops
In July 2019 The Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns launched a series of 2 page bulletins titled: One Amazon Many Voices at http://bit.ly/OAMV2019