In the Carajás region, in the Brazilian state of Marañhao, “people are dying as a result of pollution and there is still no prospect of a solution”, Fr Dario Bossi, Provincial of the Comboni Fathers in Brazil, told SIR. He has been living in Sao Paulo since 2017, travelling far and wide around the country. He spent over ten years in Carajás, where he shared the struggles of the population against the corporation Vale S.A, the largest mining reserve and exporter of iron in the world. Present in the area for more than thirty years, Vale has a devastating impact on the lives of local, indigenous communities, Afro-Brazilians, fishermen, with high mortality rates from cancer, trials against activists, slander, serious impacts on human health and the environment. Father Bossi will be in Rome to attend the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region – 6 to 27 October. The case of Caracajàs, that involves a local community in the Amazon and a mining industry, is extremely significant and a strong symbolic example of the ongoing destruction of the planet’s “green lung.” Nine countries share the Amazon basin, extending over a territory of 7.5 million square kilometres : Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana. It features the most important mineral reserves, a third of all forests and 50% of the world’s wildlife and flora. It is home to 33 million people, including 3 million indigenous persons from 382 peoples or “nations”. The Synod, strongly desired by Pope Francis and entitled “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology”, will serve to reflect on the cry of peoples and the earth.
The struggle of the residents of Piquiá de Baixo, municipality of Açailândia. Vale has doubled its activities in the Carajás region over the past few years: it opened a huge new minefield, doubled the tracks of the “iron snake”, the longest train in the world, whose 330 wagons travel over 900 km to the port of São Luis de Marañhao, where raw material carriers depart from.” The local community has been battling for over 10 years to escape from the pollution and obtain full compensation for damages,” said Father Bossi.
The problem is that
the project to resettle 1,000 people in a salubrious environment was recently blocked by the Brazilian government, following the suspension of funds for social housing
“This is a very difficult moment for Brazil – said the Combonian priest -. Considerable cuts have been made in the areas of public education, health, support for indigenous cooperatives and wildfire prevention.” The Piquiá project has been internationally recognized as a good practice for the effective reaffirmation of rights. The UN has already sent two written requests to the government asking that it not be interrupted. Similar requests were made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Buildings construction works started in November 2018, but so far only 8% of the project has been completed, with serious delays in funding. “It exemplifies a community that has stood up for the reaffirmation of its rights – he said -. We want it to be one of the faces of the Synod. The Church of the Marañhao has taken a strong stand in support of the community. It testifies to an actively present Church that doesn’t make theoretical statements.”
The pavilion of “The Amazon, our common home”, in Rome 4 to 27 October. A young representative of the community of Piquià de Baixo will be in Rome to bring her testimony at the initiative “The Amazon, our common home”, promoted by several Catholic institutions. It will take place at the St. Mary in Trasportina church in Via della Conciliazione, October 4-27. A pavilion, a place for encounter and prayer to share first-hand accounts and live the spirituality of the Pan-Amazon region. The program features debates, conferences, photo exhibits, movie screenings. Themes on integral ecology and new faces for the Amazon Church will converge at the Synod. Participants will address the ongoing devastation plan which considers this region only as a source of mineral resources to be extracted, trees to be cut, agribusiness for disastrous monocultures for the production of ethanol, along with the ancestral, relationship of indigenous peoples and communities of afro-descendants, living along the river banks, in the forest, integrated within the natural environment.
“Authority and priority must be given to the indigenous populations”,
the missionary said. “This doesn’t mean denying national sovereignty in the various Countries but making sure that also local legislative frameworks enshrine the respect for people’s self-determination and to advance, free and informed consent on interventions in their territories. This right is systematically violated when external projects are imposed.”
The right to the Holy Eucharist. The Comboni missionary pointed out that the Synod started some time ago: “It managed to effectively involve the grassroots level”: with the following results in 7 months:
260 assemblies, 86,000 people contacted, 172 indigenous ethnic groups (called “nations”) heard out of 340 (44%).
Their contributions formed the basis of the preparatory document, the Instrumentum laboris, which the communities recognised themselves in. In October representatives of indigenous peoples will also be present along with the 250 Synod Fathers – mostly bishops chosen from different regions of the world.
The most debated issues include “the right to the Holy Eucharist”, namely, the possibility for lay people, including married couples, to bring the Eucharist to the most remote places, where the Holy Mass is seldom celebrated by priests . In fact, most of the bishops are at the head of dioceses with vast territories, difficult to reach. “It would be an important step for the benefit of the daily life of our religious communities – said Father Bossi -. We cannot sacrifice the life of the Church. This proposal does not deny the value of celibacy – which continues to be a gift for the purpose of mission – while envisaging the possibility of other ministerial figures”.
Impact at an international level. The missionary is optimistic about the impact of a Synod on the Pan-Amazon region on the political, national and international arena, for example with regard to climate change and the depredation of nature: “Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si have already had a strong impact. Moreover, some Latin American governments are marked by nationalistic closures, and isolation is very dangerous. However
The climate emergency can’t afford national barriers. It must be addressed with an international alliance.
The Synod and the Church have a strong role to play in conveying the voices of the local communities along with alternative proposals.” The expectation of the Brazilian popular movements is clear: “That the Church may stand on their side on this path of reaffirmation and denunciation. This strengthens and improves the dialogue with the institutions, ensuring greater credibility and visibility.”