August 30, 2019 — In recent days, the fires burning in the Amazon have moved to the front page of our concerns. But the crisis facing the Amazon has existed for a long time and affects us all. September 1 is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, marking the beginning of the monthlong Season of Creation, which ends on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. This year, given the upcoming synod on the Amazon, is a perfect time to focus on what Pope Francis has called our “forest lung” that is “vital for the planet.”
Smoke near Humaita, Brazil, billows during a fire in the Amazon rainforest Aug. 17, 2019. Leaders of the Latin American bishops' council urged international action Aug. 22 to save the rainforest as massive fires continued to burn. (CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters)
Are we listening to the cry of the Amazon, the Earth, and poor and vulnerable populations?
Caring for the environment and caring for vulnerable people go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other. The Amazon rainforest, a biome that is essential to all human life, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and prevents millions of tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. It provides roughly twenty percent of the oxygen we breathe and the water we drink and is the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world. The loss of this forest ecosystem will increase the speed and the impacts of climate change.
A woman walks along a raised sidewalk in Islandia, a town in the Peruvian Amazon. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
The Indigenous peoples living in the Amazon are threatened by the growing consumption of fossil fuels in the global north. The extractive economy is intensifying the environmental and human rights threats facing the Amazon region and its indigenous and local people and is a mirror of the broader planetary crisis facing humanity today.
The Belo Monte Dam is seen on the Xingu River near Altamira, Brazil. The dam has flooded a swath of Amazon forest, displacing tens of thousands of people, many of them indigenous. The vegetation flooded by the dam is releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
Why will Pope Francis and the Vatican hold a special gathering, the Synod on the Amazon, in October?
In response to this crisis facing the Amazon region and its people, Pope Francis announced two years ago that the Vatican would hold a Synod on the Amazon in October 2019. During his visit to Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon, he expressed sadness over the exploitation of their lands for petroleum, gas, wood, gold and forms of industrial agriculture. Pope Francis said it is “essential to begin creating institutional expressions of respect, recognition and dialogue with the native peoples, acknowledging and recovering their native cultures, languages, traditions, rights and spirituality.”
The upcoming Synod on the Amazon is a commitment by the church to examine and reimagine its way of being present in the Amazon and a recognition that the church must accompany and stand in solidarity with these communities as they work to gain respect for their territories and rights.
How is the call of the Synod on the Amazon relevant to all of us?
At the heart of both Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Si', and the Synod on the Amazon are a call for integral ecology and to turn away from a throwaway culture and economy of exclusion.
An aerial view of a deforested plot of the Amazon rainforest is seen in Porto Velho, Brazil, in this 2015 file photo. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce, Reuters)
Integral ecology is a term Pope Francis loves that calls on us to address environmental AND social issues contributing to climate change: a solution which requires an “integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature,” as described in Laudato Si’.
Children jump from a rickety bridge into a river near Anapu, in Brazil's northern Para state. This area was forest land until recent decades, when the expansion of the agrarian frontier led to the steady destruction of this part of the Amazon's rain forest. (CNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey)
Laudato Si’ and the Synod on the Amazon call us to a change of heart, and to respond to the signs of the times through actions that support structural and personal change.
Working toward a solution requires individual and structural change.
This means each of us can have a role and an impact as we all work to care for our common — and only — home. This Season of Creation, the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology invite you to:
Prayerfully reflect with the ecological examen. Give thanks for creation and pray for the grace of understanding how our life choices (consumption, energy use) impact creation and indigenous peoples in the Amazon.
Reflect on the impacts of Extractive Industries on the Amazon. Visit the "Déjate Abrazar" campaign and learn about problems facing the Amazon region and the work being done by indigenous peoples, communities and Jesuit organizations to address the global impact of these seemingly local issues.
Take the Ignatian Carbon Challenge and learn about connections between meat and palm oil consumption, the Amazon and communities affected by these products as we explore the theme of “the web of life” during this Season of Creation.
Join the Global Climate Strike and people around the world who are demanding climate action. Strike resources include ideas for prayer, action and advocacy!