‘Amazonian face of the Church’ | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

‘Amazonian face of the Church’

/ 05:05 AM October 24, 2019

Happening from Oct. 6-27 in Rome is the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church, focusing on the pan-Amazon region that could influence the future of planet Earth. Pope Francis had called for this gathering in 2017. It brings together bishops, indigenous leaders and other cultural, ecological and religious experts from the region. (Women religious are excluded in the synod itself.)

The Jesuit magazine America describes the synod as “the first meeting of its kind to be organized around a distinct ecological territory. The region contains about 34 million inhabitants, including three million indigenous people from nearly 400 ethnic groups.” Several South American countries border the Amazon rainforest where the life-giving Amazon river runs through.


I interrupt to say that in the Philippines, October is National Indigenous Peoples Month by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1906 of 2009.

I spent hours reading the preparatory document on the synod titled “Amazonia: New Pathways for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” and thought it was so filled with hope and also foreboding.


From the preamble: “In the Amazon rainforest, which is of vital importance for the planet, a deep crisis has been triggered by prolonged human intervention, in which a ‘culture of waste’ (Laudato Si’ 16) and an extractivist mentality prevail. The Amazon is a region with rich biodiversity; it is multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious. It is a mirror of all humanity which, in defense of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church.

“The Special Synod’s reflections transcend the strictly ecclesial-Amazonian sphere, because they focus on the universal Church, as well as on the future of the entire planet. We begin with a specific geographical area in order to build a bridge to the other important biomes of our world: the Congo basin, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the tropical forests of the Asia-Pacific region, and the Guarani Aquifer, among others.”

We are no longer in the era of colonial conquest and religious conversions, but the Church admits: “The Church’s presence in the Amazon Basin has its roots in the colonial occupation of the area by Spain and Portugal.” Now “the Church is called to accompany and share the pain of the Amazonian people, and collaborate in healing their wounds…” to be caretakers and custodians of life in all its forms, “to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its peoples.”

The Preparatory Documents is divided into three parts, corresponding to the method “see, judge (discern), and act.”

The first part, “Seeing: Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia,” almost reads like National Geographic with reference to the threats. I can imagine the experts—sociologists, anthropologists, scientists, environmentalists and theologians—who wrote it.

The latter part is highly theological but not difficult to understand, considering that the topic is at ground level, the earth. You might want to google and read it.

“Today, unfortunately, traces still exist of the colonizing project, which gave rise to attitudes that belittle and demonize indigenous cultures.” The hard-core, ultraconservatives of the Northern hemisphere should better delete in their vocabulary the word pagan.


“Throughout its history as a mission territory, the Amazon Basin has been filled with examples of concrete witness to the Cross and was often a place of martyrdom.” I recall a favorite movie of mine, “The Mission,” directed by Roland Joffé, starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons as Jesuit missionaries who staked their lives for the natives. And, ah, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.

But we have real-life Amazonian martyrs in recent times, like Sister Dorothy Stang who was gunned down in 2005.

Stang, an American religious of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, helped in sustainable development projects for the poor of Anapu on the edge of the Amazon in Brazil. Stang worked with the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic organization that fights for the rights of rural workers and peasants.

Upon seeing two approaching gunmen, Stang pulled out a Bible and began to read to them. Her killers listened for a while, then stepped back and fired.

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