LATIN AMERICAN EPISCOPAL COUNCIL
Justice and Solidarity Department
NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF BISHOPS OF BRAZIL
Episcopal Committee on Amazonia
[Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator]
Pan-Amazonía: The fountain of life in the heart of the Church
We consider it our duty as pastors to share our anxiety and concern with the brothers and sisters who live in Panamazonía. God, in his infinite love created that marvelous region for everyone: indigenous people, people who live on the shores of the rivers, migrants, people who live in towns and communities, in cities and in a great metropolis. The living conditions in these villages, with their cultures, and their futures, make us want to remain closer to each other and to live in a “network”, so that together we can endure the onslaughts of devastation and violence. It is by being closer to each other and in solidarity that our hopes can be realized. Amazonía has a future. We who live and work in this region are called to build it.
1. Pastoral concerns
To take a look back over the more than fifty years in which the Catholic Church has been present in Amazon country, we see both light and shadow. Along with the martyrs who resisted the conquest there were those who collaborated with the different systems of colonization. Our first approach to this history must be one of a humble petition for pardon. We ask pardon for the times that we were not able to free ourselves from the influence of the colonization business, and for the times that we thought it was enough to save souls, and we assumed a negligent attitude toward the subjected people because of that. Many missionaries were convinced that if a mission could not count on a military wing, it would not be successful. And the colonial administration knew very well that without the missionaries it would be impossible to subjugate the first inhabitants of these lands. The conquerors’ quest for gold was linked to the missionaries’ quest for souls.
A sincere conversion and the desire to learn from past errors are joined profoundly to our petition for pardon for the continued failure of our first pastoral messengers to accept the people who lived in Amazonía. Nevertheless, in the interest of accuracy, we should also remember the successes of the ecclesiastical and pastoral presence in the past and in the present in the pan-Amazon region, which is “multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and pluri-religious”. Here, more and more, the dispute over the occupation of the land is intensifying. The traditional peoples of the region want recognition and titling of their land. (DA—Aparecida Document no. 86)
The voices of the prophets echoed and are still echoing in the silence of the jungles. The bravery of the pastors confronted and continues to confront the private interests, and the blood of the martyrs has drenched and continues to drench the earth and the rivers of Amazonía. Along with Pope Francis, we affirm that “the Church is not in Amazonía like those who have their bags packed to leave as soon a they are through exploiting it. From the beginning, the Church is present in Amazonía with the missionaries, with the religious congregations, the priests, the lay workers and the bishops. It continues to be present, and that will determine the future of that region.” Today the Church of Amazonía is a poor church for the poor.” (EG-Evangelii Gaudium-no. 198).
The expansion of big business in the exploitation of Amazonía by mining, by commercial agriculture, highway construction, and by hydro-electric and timber extraction all demand a greater prophetic presence by the Church. What went on in the past, or the customary sporadic visits, once or twice a year, are not enough for the pastoral nourishment of our communities. Greater effort is needed for the struggle against the current neo-colonialism and unhindered development policies. By valuing the Amazonian cultures, and committing ourselves to working for acculturated evangelization, we can combat neo-colonialism. By supporting the political forces that are working to foster regional and micro-regional development, with effective participation by the people who live in the territories, we will contribute to containing the policies fostering unhindered development. The two perspectives, both the cultural and the economic, are very relevant to pastoral work.
The Pope encourages us to build a Church with “an Amazonian face” and to strengthen the “formation of an indigenous clergy, including priests who are familiar with the local conditions”. Already in Aparecida (2007) the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean were aware that “the shortage of priests and their unequal distribution makes it impossible for many communities to participate regularly in the celebration of the Eucharist. Remembering that the Eucharist makes the Church, we are concerned about the situation of thousands of those communities that are deprived of Sunday Eucharist for long periods.”. (DA no. 100e).
In the “Letter to the First Meeting of the Catholic Church in the Legal Amazon” on November 2, 2013, the bishops of the region lamented: “It gives us great pain to see thousands of our communities excluded from Sunday Eucharist. The majority of them only have the grace of celebrating the memory of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord one, two, or three times a year”. Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) we know that “no Christian community can be built without having at is root and its center the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. All of the education of the communitarian Spirit has to begin with that”. (PO—Presbyterorum Ordinis—no.6). Also the Constitution of Dogma Lumen Gentium –LG – speaks of the Eucharist as the “source” and “highlight for every Christian life” (LG no. 11). Because of that, it is urgently necessary to create systems in our Church for the 70% of our communities that today are excluded from celebrating Sunday Eucharist so that they can participate in the “breaking of the bread” (Acts of the Apostles—no.2,42), in the “sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, and the Paschal banquet” (SC –Sacrosanctum Concilium –no.47)
“Relaunching the work of the Church” (DA no.11) in Amazonía and expanding the “process of inculturation” (EG no. 126) demands that the Church in Amazonía make “courageous” proposals, be “bold”, and “have no fear”, as Pope Francis asks us to do. The purpose of inculturation is the elevation of those who are most remote so that they become the nearest and the primary. Their lives are the preferred place for God’s epiphany. If the point of departure for inculturation is presence in the midst of a life that is wounded and fragmented, the arrival point is participation in a full life. A fragmented life and a full life are explained by one approach, the Gospels, and by one way to go, mission.
In Church documents in Pan-Amazonía, the testimony of the missionaries’ day to day lives shows the commitment of the pastors to the dignity of the human individual, principally of the poorest people, by the defense of their environment and with a pastoral presence and service that is more intense and complete in their lives.
2. Pan-Amazónica Ecclesiastical Network (REPAM is the Spanish acronym.)
The call to defend the lives of the peoples in Pan-Amazonía, and their biome, echoed strongly in the meeting of the Pan-Amazónica Ecclesiastical Network, held in Brasilia on September 9-12, 2014. On those days of communion among the different representations of the Church that make up the countries of Pan-Amazonía, the missionary institutes of consecrated life placed in the territory, the ecclesiastical institutions, and the brotherly collaborators from Europe and the United States, the Pan-Amazoneía Ecclesiastical Network (REPAM is the Spanish acronym.) was founded as an agency for articulation and communion aimed at securing the bonds of collaboration and at reaching a common vision of missionary work and evangelization in the region.
REPAM is placed at the service of the people of Pan-Amazonía. It seeks to fight for the defense of ancestral wisdom, for the territories and for their right to an “effective participation in the decisions” that are made with respect to their lives and their future. The Amazonian peoples have “the right to be consulted” in all of the policies imposed on the region. We accept and we value their spirituality in relation to the harmony of creation.
The urgency of the call to defend the environment and the lives of the peoples of that region proceeds from the proof of the impacts of the introduction of macro-economic projects. The call is articulated around the commencement of the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA is the Spanish acronym.), along with the increase in agribusiness and predatory agriculture, projects that put Amazonian flora and fauna as well as its rich biodiversity at risk. The threat of global warming and its repercussions all over the planet is more and more palpable in the region.
We denounce those projects, their focus on wealth at any cost, and their destructive effects that place the lives of the peoples of Amazonía at risk. We denounce the unscrupulous posture of those who design those political-economic strategies, using a colonialist conception of progress that aims to subjugate Amazonía. At the same time, we denounce the inequity of a scientific and “civilizing” mentality that devalues and manipulates the wisdom of the indigenous people and justifies the high-handed and unlimited exploitation of every natural element, extracting and destroying resources that are really the gifts of God, the Creator.
We ask that this call be sent to the participants in the COP20 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. CMNUCC is the Spanish acronym.) The conference will take place next month (December 2014) in Lima, Peru. We are making our own the concerns and declarations of those who are trying to confront the causes of climate change. At the conference we are committed to echoing the voices and the testimony of the original peoples of the Pan-Amazonian countries. They are the bearers of an ancestral wisdom that can contribute to the future of their biome and to the “good life” of all of humanity. We understand that the whole Church and all of humanity have a common co-responsibility to defend the biome and the Amazon basin. Because of that, and thinking of future generations, it is urgent to listen to the voices of the original peoples of Pan-Amazonía.
3. A Message of Hope
We are using this opportunity to send a message of hope to all of God’s people. First to the men and women of all nations, so that they will feel co-responsible for our planet, for our common home, and therefore for Amazonía. In this world of ours, dominated by unbridled consumerism, we are making a call to conversion, to a change in our mentality and to our practices, and to our habits and attitudes. We need to pay attention to Pope Francis, who has made a forceful call “to respect and preserve all of the Creation that God has entrusted to the human race, not so as to exploit it in an unscrupulous manner, but to transform it into a garden.”
We want to nourish the perseverance and the hope of the missionary disciples who dedicate their lives day by day to living together with the peoples of Amazonía. Many of the lay workers, priests, religious, and bishops who have testified to their faith in preaching the Word, in communitarian living, and in solidarity with all of the walks of life of the people. Their closeness and their sacrifice, extending their presence in numberless communities if this immense territory, are a permanent sign of a Samaritan and prophetic Church, always alive and serving in the heart of Amazonía.
We want to live in a “culture of encounter” with all of the indigenous people, the communities that live on the river banks, the small farmers, and all of the faith communities. In the midst of all the difficulties and the threats to their culture and their way of life, the missionary disciples are living proof of their hope. Since the foundation of REPAM, and because of our commitment to strengthen the bonds of cooperation and communion in the mission, we want to give a service that can push its roots into the fertile soil where our peoples live. Our union with the people who live in Pan-Amazonía is rooted in the heart of the Trinity, which has the same plan for everyone: “an abundant life” (Gospel according to St. John, Ch. 10, verse 10).
May our Holy Mother Mary, loved so affectionately by the peoples of Amazonía, intercede for us so that we take on with courage and intelligence whatever her Son today and always asks (cf. John, Ch.2, verse 5) of us who have the privilege of living in this sacred land, the gift of God entrusted to our care and responsibility.
Cardinal Claudio Hummes—OFM Mons. Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno
President, Episcopal S.J., Archbishop of Huancayo – Peru
Commission for Amazonía President, Department of Justice
And Solidarity – Peru
Member, Pontifical Council “Peace
Mons. José Luis Azuaje Sister Mercedes Leticia Casas
Bishop of Barinas – Venezuela Sánchez F.S.p.S., President,
President, Latin American and Caribbean and Latin
Caribbean Secretariat of Cáritas American Confederation of
–SELACC Religious — CLAR
 Cf. VIOTTI, Hélio Abranches (org.). Letters (January 9, 1554): Active and passive correspondence. Complete works. Vol. 6, Sao Paulo, Loyola, 1984, p. 57 (January 9.1554).
 Speech by the Holy Father Francis in the meeting with the Brazilian Bishops. July 27, 2013. Río de Janeiro, Brazil.
 Speech by the Holy Father Francis in the meeting with the Brazilian Bishops. July 27, 2013. Río de Janeiro, Brazil.
 Meeting of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil –CNBB—and other invitees, Manaus, Brazil.
 Speech by the Holy Father Francis in the meeting with the bishops of Brazil. July 27, 2013. Río de Janeiro, Brazil.
 Expressed as “Sumak Kawsay” by the Andean peoples.
 Message from the Holy Father Francis in his General Audience, June 5, 2013, St. Peter’s Square.