By Doris Yu
April 24, 2017 — Eighteen members of REPAM, Red Eclesial Panamazónica (in English, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network), traveled from the Amazon region to Washington, D.C., last month to advocate for their rights to land and clean water.
The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States was part of a host committee of Catholic organizations that sponsored the REPAM delegation’s visit. Cecilia Calvo, senior advisor on environmental justice for the Jesuit Conference, helped identify spaces for the REPAM delegation to share their voices and concerns about the human rights impacts of extractive industries.
The REPAM delegation testifying at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C.
The delegation consisted of indigenous and pastoral leaders including Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, president of REPAM and former archbishop of Sao Paulo; Archbishop Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, SJ, of Huancayo, Peru, and vice president of REPAM; and leaders from four countries of the Amazon (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru).
They hoped to share the human rights issues facing indigenous peoples in the Amazon and the role of accompaniment played by the Catholic Church, answering the call put forth by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ to care for creation and the most vulnerable communities.
Rosildo da Silva, indigenous leader of the Jaminawa Arara people of the state of Acre, Brazil
The Society of Jesus has supported REPAM from its start through the Jesuit Pan-Amazonian Project, an initiative of the Conference of Provincials of Latin America and through collaboration with Jesuit universities in Latin America. Archbishop Barreto, himself a Jesuit, strongly encouraged the creation of REPAM while serving as president of the Latin American Episcopal Conference’s Office of Justice and Solidarity.
Archbishop Barreto and a small group of REPAM representatives testified on March 17 at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), part of the Organization of American States headquartered in D.C.
Archbishop Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, SJ, testifying at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Many organizations testified before the IACHR on issues affecting North, South and Central America, ranging from refugees’ rights, to freedom of expression, to transparency in mining and extractive industries.
Two of the cases represented by the REPAM delegation are directly related to the Society of Jesus’ mission in Ecuador and Peru.
(l-r) Zebelio Kayap, Archbishop Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, SJ, and Rosildo da Silva testify at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C.
The Jesuits’ support of REPAM advances a priority of the global Society expressed at the 36th General Congregation of “Jesuit commitment in regions like the Amazon and the Congo Basin” and a priority of the Conference of Provincials of Latin America (CPAL).
“Through this public hearing, we hope to define the position of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network – REPAM – of the Catholic Church regarding the infringement on the land rights of the indigenous people and Amazonian communities in South America,” said Archbishop Barreto.
Zebelio Kayap, an indigenous leader representing the Awajun Wampis people of Peru
In the face of oil extraction and mining, the Apostolic Vicariate of Jaen in Peru, led by the Society of Jesus, is accompanying the Awajun Wampis indigenous people in their struggle for self-determination, a healthy environment, the right to consultation and to the recognition of their ancestral lands and indigenous government.
At the IACHR hearing, Zebelio Kayap, an indigenous leader representing the Awajun Wampis people, spoke of how extractive activities have proceeded without consulting indigenous communities about their ancestral and sacred lands. Oil extraction has caused water contamination, reduction of fish for subsistence, digestive diseases in children, and division among indigenous communities.
Workers collect oil from a stream below the site of an oil pipeline break in 2016 in Wachapea, Peru. (CNS photo/Barbara Fraser)
Later in the week, on March 24, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University met with the delegation to explore potential opportunities for collaboration. The discussion focused on extractive industries, human rights, conflict and peacebuilding.
Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs led a roundtable discussion.
The delegation then met with Georgetown University president John J. DeGioia.
The members of REPAM met Georgetown University president John J. DeGioia (front row, second from right).
The REPAM members also spoke at “Laudato Si’ in the Amazonian Region,” a panel on the church's work in the Amazon at Georgetown University.
(l-r) Mauricio Lopez, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, and Fr. Matthew Carnes, SJ, during a panel discussion at Georgetown University
“We are confronting a social and environmental crisis,” said Cardinal Hummes at the event. “The Amazon carries particular significance since it is the great lung of our planet. We as the church must ask ourselves how we can do as the pope has asked and make our presence felt and known. The pope wants a missionary church, a poor church created for the poor. It must be more missionary than it is now. He says that the church must have an Amazonian face, a native clergy, a clergy born there, an indigenous clergy. This is a big challenge since it requires the harmonization of the Catholic Church with native culture of the Amazon.”
The delegation’s trip to Washington closed with a Mass at the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Holy Trinity Church in the Georgetown neighborhood, with Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference, presiding.
Handmade banners were displayed for each region’s special intentions during the Mass at Holy Trinity.
Cardinal Hummes gave the homily in Spanish, elaborating on the virtue of charity. “Faith without charity is a dead thing.”