November 25, 2019 — Though nearly a month has passed since the conclusion of the Synod on the Amazon, its call for an “integral ecology” continues to prompt reflection. For the six Jesuit Conference delegates returning from Rome, this message requires them to ask: How can my community continue to walk in solidarity with the people and the ecology of the Amazon?
Both the Synod and its accompanying space, Amazon: Common Home, gathered Catholic leadership, environmental experts, activists, and global indigenous communities to address the pressing effects of climate change and ecological resource depletion, particularly in the Amazon. Across the world, these consequences of industry and consumption disproportionately impact vulnerable communities—especially indigenous populations and poor communities in the Global South. Rooted in the teachings of Laudato Si’ and integral ecology, the Synod sought solutions that recognize the connection between environmental injustice and other forms of marginalization.
Cecilia Calvo, organizer of the delegation and environmental policy advisor for the Jesuit Conference, says this week of Thanksgiving is an opportune time to reflect on the U.S. role in environmental and social injustice. "I am grateful for this experience of encounter that our North American delegation shared with indigenous and church leaders from the Amazon," she says. "The Synod on the Amazon asks us to look outward and inward. How in the North are we connected to to the harm facing the Amazon region and its people? What are the socio-environmental challenges we face at home in North America and who is most impacted? How through our actions can we stand in solidarity with indigenous people in the Amazon and in North America?"
As the Archbishop of Regina, Saskatchewan, Donald Bolen has worked closely with First Nations to address past abuses and current systemic issues. He is compelled by the Synod’s call for integral ecology.
“Laudato Si' put forward a vision of integral ecology, inviting us to relearn a way of living in relation to the natural world which is sustainable environmentally and responsive to the needs of the world's poorest and most marginalized peoples,” says delegate Bolen. “The Synod on the Amazon shone a light on a particular region, the Amazon biome, but in doing so, it asked questions of universal importance as well, the questions that Laudato Si' has asked that all of us address.”
Reflecting on her time in Rome, Sister Priscilla Solomon, CSJ, says that as both a woman religious and a member of the Ojibwe First Nations, the solidarity and support among the synodal delegates was heartening.
“One morning, three of our delegation joined the latter at the entrance to the Synod Hall,” Solomon says. “Fr. Fernando Lopez SJ, a dynamic Jesuit from REPAM who was with Amazonians at the Casa Comun [Amazon: Common Home], eagerly introduced us to numerous Cardinals, Bishops and Indigenous participants in the Synod, to share with them that we North Americans were in solidarity with them and praying for them. I had a sense that their vision of a Church living integral ecology includes direct involvement with the Indigenous Peoples, walking in solidarity with them throughout their ecological and economic challenges and struggles, and helping them to give expression to their faith in these very matters of daily life.”
While the space of the Synod promoted listening and dialogue on these issues, now that delegates have dispersed to their home communities, they are seeking ways to protect and care for our common home.
For Church leaders, this means leveraging the resources of the Catholic Church to work together with indigenous and marginalized communities suffering from environmental injustice. Richard Coll, director of the Office of Domestic Social Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reflects on the Church’s role in organizing this action.
“I take home the importance of the role of the Church, as a crucial actor in civil society, in supporting indigenous communities and in advocating for just environmental policies that recognize the need to empower indigenous communities in the determination of their future,” Coll says. “In our Church activities and parish communities, we can mobilize at the local, state and federal level to advance political and social reforms, through legislation and administrative action, that will protect indigenous people and their land and resources and recognize the long-ignored demands of indigenous communities. I hope political action is supported through Church documents, and that liturgical reform takes place to reflect the rich spirituality of indigenous peoples throughout the world.”
For Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, the Synod was a unique opportunity to connect with indigenous communities from the Amazon, sharing struggles and hope.
“We let them know that we Indigenous of the United States and Canada are very supportive of their cause and that what is happening to them happened to us over 125 years ago,” Bordeaux says. “Although our language differences kept us from communicating directly, it did not stop us from connecting and sharing our commonalities.
“As we return from Rome, we will continue to work with those in the Church who are caring, loving and committed in continuing with the Synod. My community walks in solidarity with our Indigenous relatives in the Amazon, embracing the higher power of God and prayer in our support for them. The Tribes in the U.S. and First Nations in Canada need to assist and stand in solidarity with them [indigenous peoples of the Amazon]. We can use our political connections to become aware and support the efforts, rather than ignoring it and looking the other way.”
The Synod’s call to an integral ecology also invites delegates from the Global North to examine the ways in which the region is responsible, through fast-paced consumption and energy demand, for the depletion of natural resources in areas like the Amazon. As Bordeaux and Coll reflect, this truth compels those in the Global North to take political action by supporting sustainable environmental policies.
Learn more about the Office of Justice and Ecology’s advocacy on environmental justice here. 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.