By MegAnne Liebsch
October 14, 2019 — Six North American delegates, sponsored by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, will participate in the Amazon: Common Home symposium during the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in Rome. The synod, which began October 7, examines the new challenges facing the Amazon and pathways for the church to walk in greater solidarity with its people.
The discussions focus on issues of ecology and economic justice in the Amazon region — where global industrialization and climate change have endangered natural resources and Amazonian indigenous communities. So far, the synod has brought together bishops, indigenous leaders and women religious to take steps toward what Pope Francis calls an integral ecology.
, Francis calls attention to the environment’s deep-rooted connections to many other aspects of life. Integral ecology calls for “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” In Laudato Si’
While the number of participants in the synod itself is limited, the Common Home gathering features a broader and more diverse array of voices, including indigenous leaders, church leaders, lay people and secular activists. The space is designed to highlight these voices, bringing life to the issues of the Amazon and fostering spirituality, awareness raising, dialogue and reflection, and advocacy.
Though both the synod and the Common Home symposium focus largely on the concerns of the Amazon and its peoples, their delegations are international because an integral ecology calls for global involvement to address environmental injustice and climate change.
For the Jesuit Conference’s six delegates, addressing the interlaced issues of ecology, poverty and indigenous rights is vital both in the context of the Amazon and in North America, as North America contributes to the rapid consumption of the Amazon through extractive industries and fossil fuel demand. In this way, the synod and Common Home are spaces in which people from the global north can actively listen to the concerns and fears of the Amazonian people.
At the same time, what’s happening in the Amazon is a mirror of the broader planetary crisis. Across the world, and especially in many communities in North America, fast-paced consumption and energy demand have depleted natural resources and exposed many vulnerable populations, including indigenous communities and economically disadvantaged regions, to greater harm. The experiences of the Conference delegates draw connections between the worries of the Amazonian people and those of many North Americans.
In facilitating a dialogue between distant and yet related communities, the Common Home event seeks to re-evaluate where consumption and unchecked industrialization are driving society and, instead, hopes to promote a path toward sustainability.
“We are all deeply connected and we are called on a common journey to fullness of life,” said Sr. Priscilla. “We Indigenous Peoples in North America (Turtle Island) like our Amazonia brothers and sisters were gifted by our ancestors with ways of living in harmony with all earth beings and elements in a manner that resembles Pope Francis’ vision of integral ecology.”Drawing on rich spiritualities and a strong commitment to the promotion of social and environmental justice, the six Conference delegates bring the concerns of integral ecology to life. The delegation includes: two leaders from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Rodney Bordeaux and Rita Means; Canadian Ojibway Sister of Saint Joseph Priscilla Solomon; Canadian Archbishop Donald Bolen; Richard Coll, director of the Office of Domestic Social Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Cecilia Calvo, senior environmental justice advisor within the Conference’s Office of Justice and Ecology.
Sr. Priscilla works closely on issues of indigenous-settler reconciliation in Canada, and as an adult, she has reclaimed her Ojibway cultural and spiritual heritage.
“The Synod on the Amazon is of vital importance because it concentrates our attention on some critically important questions: What is happening to the Amazon, both the environment and the Indigenous people who live there?” Archbishop Bolen said. “How are we in North America impacted by the situation there, and how are we implicated in it? As archbishop of Regina, Saskatchewan, Bolen works on indigenous relations, justice issues and ecumenical relations.What are the places in our countries where our Indigenous Peoples and the environment are suffering? And what can we do about all of that?”
For Rodney Bordeaux, whose entire life has been dedicated to serving the people of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, attending the Common Home symposium is an opportunity to bring indigenous concerns to life. “I am passionate about protecting the environment and lands of Indigenous peoples, as well as fighting for our basic human rights,” Bordeaux said.
Richard Coll emphasizes the timeliness of this convening. “The Synod on the Amazon is a pivotal event in the history of the Catholic Church, representing an encounter of dialogue between divergent, but united, spiritual and cultural traditions,” he said. “I am blessed to be a part of this dialogue, to discern the signs of our times by listening to the voices that the peripheries bring.”
As the organizer of the Jesuit Conference delegation and the Conference's enviromental policy advisor, Cecilia Calvo recognizes the connections between the global north and south. "The Synod on the Amazon challenges us to take an honest look at the throwaway culture that is devastating the Amazon region and its people, and harming our planet," she said. "We see similar challenges facing indigenous peoples and marginalized communities in North America. How are we called to envision a new relationship with creation and with one another?”
While in attendance, the delegation will participate in the “North-South Encounter and Solidarity” panel on October 17 (click here for the Spanish flyer). Bringing together the North American delegates with four delegates from the Amazon, the event will weave together the ecological, social and economic concerns of both the global north and south. The event will also look toward the future of the global community, seeking pathways to care for our common home and promote harmonious living. The Jesuit Conference and the delegation will also co-sponsor an interactive colonization and reconciliation exercise on October 18. Led by delegate Sister Priscilla Solomon, the exercise uses blankets to visualize the loss and theft of native lands in Canada throughout history, fostering truth and reconciliation among participants.
To learn more and stay updated on our delegation’s journey, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about the Society of Jesus’s work in the Amazon, check out Dejate Abrazar, an initiative of the Jesuits of Latin America.