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Synod for the Pan-Amazon region: a challenge to be met in a world where everything is “interconnected”  

The upcoming Synod for the Pan-Amazon region is a challenge that must be met in a world where “everything is interconnected.” In accordance with the encyclical Laudato Si, a radical “ecological conversion” is urgently needed to address the ongoing environmental crisis and its serious consequences. "Vulnerability", "the good life”, the role of women, and the shortage of priests are some of the themes broached by the Synod Fathers

“Working on a warmer planet” will lead to the loss of 80 million jobs by 2030, equivalent to global economic losses of US$2,400 billion. The figures were released in a Report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) under the same headline. According to the UN body, the impact of increased heat stress on global productivity adds on to other adverse impacts of climate change that include changing rain patters. At geographic level, the Pan-Amazon region is one of the areas of the world that is likely to suffer the heaviest consequences. Brazilian space research institute INPE reported the deforestation of 762 square kilometres compared to 488 km in June 2018. By signing the Paris Agreement in 2015 (COP 21) Brazil committed to end illegal deforestation by 2030. The Amazon rainforest is the Earth’s “green lung” , absorbing up to two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and contributing to 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. These figures constitute the framework of the upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region (October 6-27 2019), whose Instrumentum laboris was released on June 17.

Everything is interconnected. Although it is a special Synod – dedicated to a specific territory and to the local churches that inhabit it – its frame of reference is a globalized world where “everything is interconnected”, as the Pope writes in Laudato Si: in the Amazon, environmental exploitation and human rights violations coincide as a result of new power structures based on the “techno-economic paradigm”, prevailing today, which for Bergoglio can only be defeated through an overall “ecological conversion” of the global scenario, that encompasses profound changes in “personal lifestyle” as well as government interventions to counter the environmental crisis with a view to ensuring the sustainability of Planet Earth to future generations.

Vulnerability and “good living.” The Amazon extends for almost 8 million square kilometres and includes territory belonging to 9 nations, accounting for 40% of global tropical forest. Its ecosystems harbour about 10-15% of the planet’s land biodiversity. There are 380 indigenous peoples, speaking 86 languages. A hundred of them live in isolation : they are the Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation (PIAV), but as a whole they do not exceed 4 million, out of 34 million people living in the area. The challenge addressed by the Synod is the recognition of the Amazon as new subject,  “having received insufficient consideration in the national or world context or in the life of the Church”, states the Instrumentum Laboris at n. 2.  In the Amazon, vulnerability goes hand in hand with “the good life” described in the document, namely, the age-old traditional knowledge of the local population: “living in “harmony with oneself, with nature, with human beings and with the supreme being.” It stands as an example of “connection” between material, human and transcendent values – defined “cosmovision” in the Synod’s Working Document – which remains a distinctive trait in an area of the world exposed to serious threats such as “assassination of leaders; appropriation and privatization of natural goods; concessions and illegal logging; hydroelectric and forest concessions, pollution, drug trafficking” (n. 14-15). Not to mention the two major chapters of migration – commuting, forced displacement of the population, voluntary migration, urbanization – and corruption, a veritable “moral scourge” which “represents a culture that poisons the State and its institutions, permeating all social strata, including indigenous communities.” (n. 82).

The role of women and the shortage of priests. Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered on February 12 2005 in Anapu, State of Para, in the Amazon basin. “I know that they want to kill me, but I will not go away. My place is here alongside these people who are constantly humiliated by the powerful,” she said when she prefigured her martyrdom. Sister Dorothy is mentioned in the Bishops’ Instrumentum laboris, where, alongside the many martyrs, homage is paid to the many women who stand by their people in the Amazon, sharing – like the many martyrs of this land – their struggles for the recognition of their dignity.  The “creation of new ministries” for lay men and women, and studying the possibility of “priestly ordination for older people respected by the local community”,  are among the suggestions to be discussed by the Synod Fathers. On average all 300 Amazon communities can count on the presence of a priest per 300 square kilometres, which amounts to attending Mass once a year. “If the Eucharist is central to the life of the Church then we are not Catholic”, is the thought-provoking reflection recently made by Msgr. Flavio Giovenale, bishop of Cruzeiro do Sul in Brazil.

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