Representatives of the Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) have been meeting with senior Church leaders at a US university this week, ahead of October's Synod of Bishops on Amazonia. Georgetown University in Washington DC hosted a conference 19-21 March, organised by REPAM, titled, 'Integral Ecology: A Synodal response from the Amazon Region and other Biomes and Essential Territories for the Care of Our Common Home'.
Participants were drawn from around the world with a strong presence of cardinals and bishops from the Global South. Topics discussed included: 'A world in Socio-Environmental Crisis', 'Testimonies: The Cry of the People, the Cry of the Earth', and 'Integral Ecology and the Church's mission'.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York, spoke about the commitment of Pope Francis, the Holy See and the United Nations to indigenous people and their cause. Archbishop Auza noted that Pope Francis in his encyclical 'Laudato Sì', urges all to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions, not merely out of defense for their rights but in recognition of how much indigenous peoples have to teach the world about the inter-relationship between environment and sustainable development. The Holy See underscored the collective right of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources, he said, giving them the political, economic and social space necessary to affirm their identity and to control their development and destiny.
Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the Brazilian President of REPAM, was present and Columban Fr Peter Hughes, who works with REPAM and is helping it prepare for the Synod. He has spent five decades as a missionary in Latin America, based in Peru. The Irish missionary supports Church initiatives to protect the biodiversity of life in the Amazon and the indigenous people. "The Synod is an important moment for the voice of the Amazon and its peoples to be heard" says Fr Peter; "their cry, absent until now, has arrived on the agenda of society at large and the Church". Fr Hughes feels: "The Amazon is of increasing importance both in itself, a geographical region which occupies almost half the South American subcontinent, and also a biosphere under pressure regarding universal planetary issues, these include climate equilibrium and future availability of basics such as water and air, and what is now happening in the region has significance for future life on the planet".
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo from Myanmar and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines were present and Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of the Indigenous People. "We have to develop a green theology of liberation" said Cardinal Bo. "
The final day of the conference opened with a reflection by Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-founder and director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University. She spoke of a new hope that is blowing through the Church and world that is coming from the voices of indigenous peoples, of the Earth and of youth. She spoke of a new yearning in the Church to humbly listen and learn from other cultures, other faiths, and the universe. The remainder of day was dedicated to listening to the geographic working groups that imagined how the Synod on the Amazon can be territorialised throughout the world.
The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region is scheduled to meet in Rome in October 2019 with the theme, 'The Amazon: New paths for the Church and for integral ecology'.
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