The Pan-Amazonian Synod and its Challenges

Blog by Sr. Mary Ellen Bennett, OP

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:

  1. The threat to life in the Amazon region by environmental destruction and exploitation.
  2. Systematic violations of the fundamental rights and traditions of the indigenous people such as the right to land, self-determination, and prior consent.
  3. 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:

  1. The concept of “development” projects is questioned, especially concerning who benefits and who suffers violence.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Take the Challenge

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Over the past 29 days, we’ve prayed for the victims of mass shootings in our daily prayer on Facebook.  Twenty-nine was the number of those killed in El Paso and Dayton and we started our litany right after those shootings.  We prayed for 432 individuals killed and 794 injured in mass shootings.

These are only a faction of the mass shootings occurring in the U.S. on a regular bases and don’t include the average of 100 people killed each day by gun violence. Those killed are men and women, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbors… all killed by gun violence. Is this the reward of living the second amendment in such a broad way?

In a study by the Children’s Defense Fund in September 2018, children were asked about what worried them the most. The top two responses?  Being bullied (42%) and a shooting happening at school (33%). One third of children go to school anxious about their safety.

At a Big Table gathering in Columbus, I sat with four high school students from both inner city and suburban high schools.  They described being afraid that their school would be the next site of a shooting or strategized about the best place to hide from a shooter. (Not under the desk – too obvious.)  Kids should think about their futures not their deaths.

What’s next?  Will everyone need to lose someone close to them to do something? Anything?

So here’s my challenge, sisters and associates – write a personal, handwritten letter to one of your senators and demand that they act on common sense gun safety legislation.  Tell them how gun violence has touched you… your family… your students. Use your righteous indignation to demand change.  Remember gun safety is a pro-life issue.

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400 Years of Slavery

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

In August, 1619, a ship docked in Fort Comfort, Virginia. “Twenty and odd Negroes” were sold for food. It marked the beginning of the slave trade in the United States. This past weekend, there were many ceremonies to commemorate the 400th anniversary of slavery.  They were not celebrations because how can you celebrate that human beings were considered chattel – to be used and sold. But they were vital events to recognize the role of slavery in so many lives.

Take a minute to think about this concept.  How would you feel if you were considered someone’s property?  You could be bought or sold, forced to work long hours, beaten and raped. Your children could be taken away.  All because of your color, nationality, or gender.

The legacy of slavery includes the Civil War, Jim Crow, lynching, race riots, segregated schools and housing, the school to prison pipeline and the deaths of innocent black boys and men. It touches each of us regardless of our color – black, brown, yellow or white. “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

In Columbus, the Spirituality Network (an organization that we have longed worked in and sponsored) hosted a programs called 400 Years – Africans in America: I Am an Answered Prayer. Each presenter provided some insight in how slavery touches the very DNA of each person and our country.  If one is taught that he/she is not valued, in fact, not even fully human, is it surprising that they would struggle to value their own lives or the lives of others?  Or that others – immigrants, LGBTQ, or individuals with disabilities – would also be treated as less valuable?  Entire communities are treated as not deserving of clean water, clean air, quality education, safety, et cetera because of their color.

So we have reached a cross-road.  Which way America? Will we agree to face the last 400 years, recognize what we have done and are doing to others, acknowledge our own white privilege, and recognize the humanity of all people? Will we help young black and brown children who think their future is to be poor reverse that vision? Will we continue to perpetuate Mafaa, the great tragedy, that stereotypes people of color and enslaves them in hopelessness?

Frederick Douglass once said “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery.” It’s time to stop the misery of all people of color.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

What Makes a Racist?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

I just spent the weekend learning and reflecting about racism.  It’s a complicated issue especially for those of us who are white and don’t think we are. It’s very difficult to know what’s in another’s heart but as we do know that actions speak louder than words.

Case in point.  There is a lot of discussion about whether the president is racist. People on Facebook are asking it, the news media is commenting on it and several Democratic lawmakers are stating it.  Again, we don’t know what’s in his heart but let’s look at some actions:

  • Children as young as four months have been separated from their parents.
  • Hardworking, tax paying immigrants have been arrested and deported.
  • Families fleeing from violence and climate disasters are refused entry because of their religion.
  • Parents and children are detained in cages in 60 degree rooms.
  • Whole countries, cities, and ethnicities are labeled as criminals, terrorists, or filthy.

All of the above are happening to people of color.

Very few can say that we do not have some racist tendencies in us. We must work hard to identify them and keep them from resulting in actions that hurt others.

St. Paul wrote “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Calling people names takes up time and energy that would be better spent doing good.  Let’s use our energy to protest these evil and racist actions by letting our representatives know that we do not agree with what is going on and that we will not reelect those who are complicit in these actions.  Catholics are taught to love the sinner and hate the sin. Let us pray for the president and those who are advising him and at the same time continue to condemn those actions that hurt our brothers and sisters.

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Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

This Thursday, we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Mary into heaven. She is the only human that we know of whose resurrected body was united with God.  The rest of us must wait until the end times or second coming for this to happen.  Why was this incredible honor given to her?

It was certainly her radical YES to God’s request to become the mother of Jesus.  An unmarried teenage girl trusted God enough to agree to this request. But it didn’t stop there. Wasn’t it also all the other yesses she said during her lifeline? Consider these examples.

Mary said yes when she joined Joseph as they were forced to flee their homes to escape to Egypt when violence threatened the safety of their child. Despite the incredibly hard journey and their desperate poverty, they went.

Mary said yes when she realized the Jesus wasn’t with Joseph on the journey back home from Jerusalem.  Jesus was back in the temple learning from the elders.  Imagine the fear Mary felt at this separation. Yet Jesus had to ‘go about His Father’s business” alone.

Mary said yes when she stood at the foot of the cross.  She watched as her innocent child was executed by government forces and by hate for what he preached.

Mary said yes in all her experiences especially those that were the most painful.  She is a model for the many mothers seeking safety and survival for their children. She is the model for mothers whose children have been separated from them.  She is the model for the mothers of the executed. She is a model for each of us letting us know what we can say yes in the most sorrowful and fearful times in our lives.

Thank you, gracious God, for giving us this loving model of YES.

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