Slightly more than a month has passed since the historic meeting of Pope Francis with Amazonian peoples in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. There are still twenty months to go to the celebration of the Synod for the Pan-Amazon region. But the process leading to this new ecclesial event has already begun, precisely during the days of the Papal visit. REPAM, the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network created in 2014, has initiated the first pre-synodal meeting in Puerto Maldonado. Others will follow, in order to ensure the full involvement of Churches and local populations (the indigenous people in particular) of this huge stretch of land that extends across nine South-American Countries and includes some ninety dioceses and apostolic Vicariates. We asked Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, President of Repam, to illustrate the prospects of this process.
What impressed you the most in Pope Francis’ words and gestures in Puerto Maldonado?
All of us present were deeply impressed by the event as a whole. Pope Francis travelled from Rome to visit an extremely significant periphery of the Amazon region. A mistreated, suffering periphery, degraded by the predatory extraction of natural resources, contaminated by mining companies, by deforestation and by agribusiness, which after having extracted all the wealth of natural resources leave local populations to face utter devastation. The entire Amazon region is a victim of this process and it risks disappearing. The Pope wished to meet this Amazon region coping with a constant threat, in this periphery, to meet the local populations worried about their future, especially the indigenous populations, to join his encouraging and prophetic voice to the voice of the peoples of the Amazon rainforest.
In what ways is REPAM cooperating in the preparations of the Pan-Amazon Synod?
REPAM carries out an ecclesial service that is tasked with coordinating and promoting the entire ecclesial reality of the Pan-Amazon region and thus develop a veritable network. By ecclesial reality I mean the mission as a whole, the activities, institutions and services of the Church in the Amazon region:
A missionary, merciful, poor Church for the poor, that cares for the Creation.
An incarnate Church that walks with the people. After its past three and a half years of experience REPAM was invited by the Synod’s General Secretariat to cooperate closely in the preparations for the Pan-Amazon Synod. In Puerto Maldonado, in the days of the Pope’s visit, on a request of Cardinal Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, REPAM summoned 15 priests, nuns and lay people in the pan-Amazon region for a first meeting in preparation of the dedicated Synod. From now on we will promote the organization of assemblies, meetings and gatherings to study and develop proposals with the participation of local Churches, inland communities, with the involvement of indigenous communities in particular.
Which contribution and message can the Pan-Amazon Church give to the universal Church as a whole?
We are all members of the same universal Church. Thus we wish to learn from each other. A specific contribution of the Pan-Amazon Church to the universal Church will be accomplished inasmuch as the Church of the Amazon region manifests a veritable “Amazon rainforest face.” Diversity in unity is of the essence and it is critical to the very existence of the universal Church. The enculturation of the Christian faith into the various cultures of the Amazon region will be a major step and a real enrichment of the universal Church. The dream is to make possible the birth and the development of an indigenous, enculturated Church guided by indigenous shepherds.
To what extent has Laudato Si been of consequential import for the Churches of the Amazon region?
The encyclical Laudato Si is a historic, extraordinary document that has a prophetic and innovative bearing not only for the Amazon region but for the whole world in these times marked by a serious, urgent global ecological and climatic crisis. Against this backdrop the Amazon rainforest has a universal meaning and it manifests an irreplaceable value as it is one of the lungs of the planet.
The degradation of the Amazon rainforest is bound to cause serious, probably irreversible, damage for the next generations.
Thus this encyclical holds special importance for the Church in the Amazon region. REPAM considers it its Magna Charta.
Is the exploitation of the Amazon rainforest and of its resources increasing? How can this phenomenon be stopped?
Unfortunately it is. Putting an end to such exploitation requires information because world societies are not fully informed on the gravity of the situation and on the urgent need to tackle the ongoing climatic and ecological crisis. There is need for specific education, because people are not fully knowledgeable of the causes of the crises and related solutions. News media, schools, Churches, civil society organizations can all contribute to the creation of a favourable global public opinion. In the encyclical the Pope calls for dialogue on the environment in international political life and in the global economic system, as well as in local politics and economy; for dialogue between science and religions; a more austere lifestyle, with less consumerism and waste; an ecological conversion.
In your opinion should the Synod also tackle the shortage of priests in the Amazon region? Is it possible to envisage new solutions?
The number of ordained ministers, priests and missionaries in the immense Amazon region continues to decline. Their presence is essential for the evangelization of Amazonian peoples, especially indigenous peoples. In fact the same indigenous people lament the lack of priests in their regions. But they ask for priests with an encultured Christian message so that the Church may become truly indigenous. Thus the Synod will certainly address this issue. Solutions? Past October 15, in St. Peter’s Square the Pope said we should identify “new paths.”