Everything is Interconnected
Everything is interconnected as if we were one. Everything is interlinked in this common house. It is one of the phrases that were repeated and sung the most during the 21 days of the Synod of the Amazon held in the city of Rome between October 4 and October 27. The phrase contains in its deepest sense what thousands of pages of civil and ecclesiastical documents are diagnosing about the current state of the world, including the Amazon region. Everything is interconnected, starting from a great environmental crisis and a great social crisis that currently affects humanity. “There are not two separate crises, one environmental and one social, but a single and complex socio-environmental crisis” (LS, 139).
In fact, one of the main starting points of this Synod is the Encyclical Laudato SI’ published by Pope Francis in May 2015, which outlines a path for the care of the common home that goes through recognizing this intimate connection between the environmental and social crisis and invites us to sustain hope from a new culture that places truth, life and spirituality at the center.
And the truth is stubborn: millions of people are still condemned to hunger, misery and poverty. At the same time as there is a great accumulation of wealth, technology and knowledge, biodiversity is being lost and nature is being destroyed. The abuse of the technocratic paradigm distances the person from that emotion of wonder that leads to gratitude for the beauty of life and activates the attitude of hope. A devastated and mistreated earth groans for the abuses committed against her, while the dominant culture invites us to forget that humanity, our own bodies, are also water, air and dust. It is from the periphery, from there where the cries of the wounded earth and the abused peoples are heard, from where a spirituality also springs up, reminding us of the fragility of our existence, the beauty of living and the connection of all as if we were one.
How did this Synod come about?
In the Synods, the bishops meet to discuss the way forward on a particular topic. The term comes from late Latin, which in turn is borrowed from Greek, and means “to walk together”. In this case, the Synod was convened to discuss the path to be followed by the Catholic Church in the Amazon region, and for the development of an integral ecology. In this sense, the Synod has a direct relationship with the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium Gaudium, the Encyclical Letter Laudato SI´and the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio. It can be considered as a first landing of Pope Francis ‘ ideas for the Amazon region, with important implications for the Universal Church. In other words, it could be said that the Synod of the Amazon is an exercise in which we are trying to “first” (primerear, in Spanish) what the Episcopalis Communio, Evangelium Gaudium and Laudato SI´ are putting forward. That is, we are trying to put into practice the joy of the gospel, the care of the common home and new paths for the Church, starting from the Amazon
The Synod was officially convened by Pope Francis on September 15, 2017 aimed at “finding new ways for the evangelization of that portion of the People of God, especially of the indigenous people, often forgotten and without a prospect of a serene future, also because of the crisis of the Amazon forest, lung of fundamental importance to our planet”.
Subsequently, it was fed with a consultation process that lasted more than 2 years in the 9 Amazonian countries or the “Panamazonia”: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. More than 87,000 people were consulted in the process and their concerns were captured in the Instrumentum Laboris (preparatory document).
The report highlights the importance of the Amazon region for climate regulation and the geophysical stability of the planet, as well as its serious state of vulnerability. It is estimated that 15% of the planet’s fresh water is provided by the Amazon River and significantly contributes to providing rainfall in other areas of South America. About 20% of the oxygen produced in the world comes from its forests and contributes to the movement of air around the planet. Moreover, the Panamazonia is a true cradle of the biological and cultural diversity of our world.
The importance of the Amazonian peoples and the Amazon for the Church
According to the scientific community, the Amazon region is the second most vulnerable area to climate change caused by humans around the world. Currently, the Amazon region faces a devastating wave of extractivist projects that put both the territory and its inhabitants at risk. A 40% deforestation of the Amazon would lead to desertification of the South American subcontinent (currently it is estimated that the rate of deforestation is between 15 and 20%), as well as a warming above 4 degrees Celsius of the planet.
The region is home to 33.6 million people, between 2 and 2.5 million of whom are counted as indigenous peoples, in an area almost as big as Australia. This population is characterized by its great cultural, linguistic, social and religious diversity. Following the Synod´s mantra, the ecological diversity and social diversity of the Amazon are deeply interconnected. Throughout history, the Amazonian peoples have managed to develop ways of life that have contributed to preserving the region’s incredible ecological diversity. Social and cultural diversity is perhaps a lesser known and recognized aspect by the international community, as demonstrated by some conservation projects that act as if there were no people and cultures in the Amazon rainforest. For thousands of years, the Amazonian peoples have taken care of their land and the Amazon rainforest. They are the beholders of the ancestral wisdoms where the seed for a new path for the Church and for integral ecology can be found.
However, there is also a warning of the serious dangers that threaten the peoples and cultures of the Amazon. Dangers such as the threat of extractivist projects and the repeated violation of human rights, which are manifested with all their crudity in successive reports consulted for the Synod. They insist on the need to pay special attention to the Free Peoples, also called Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation (PIAV in Spanish) and to firmly tackle the problem of human trafficking and sexual abuse in the Amazon, along the same lines proposed by Pope Francisco’s speech at the meeting with the Amazonian peoples on January 19, 2019 in Puerto Maldonado (Peru).
Likewise, the Amazonian peoples face more internal dilemmas and challenges, such as urban growth, bilingual intercultural education or the generation of sustainable livelihoods. According to a diagnosis of educational centres in the Amazon biome prepared by the Fe y Alegría Movement with the collaboration of the Xavier Network, 64% of students over 14 years of age express the desire to leave the communities once they finish their studies. Likewise, only 34% of students and 28% of teachers recognize themselves as indigenous. The data also indicate that as the person advances in age, educational level and genuine exposure to bilingual intercultural education, the cultural identity and territorial roots of people are strengthened.
The Catholic Church is today the strongest social institution accompanying the Amazonian peoples in their multiple struggles and resistances. According to the atlas on the socio-environmental and ecclesial reality of the Panamazon region published by REPAM in 2019, the church is present in 103 ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the 9 Amazonian countries and its work in the vindication of human rights is particularly remarkable. In countries such as Brazil or Peru, 50% of the institutions working in this field are linked to institutions of the Catholic Church, where the presence of women’s congregations stands out. Thus, in spite of a history full of atrocities and pain and beyond its weakness and absence of vocations, the Catholic Church is present in the Pan-Amazonian region and has the face of a woman. Since its creation in 1996, ALBOAN Foundation has been supporting intercultural bilingual education, the defence of human rights and the generation of dignified livelihoods for the Amazonian peoples, a task to which this Synod calls us to continue and deepen with the support of the citizens.
Main conclusions of the Synod
At the closing of the Synod on October 27, Pope Francis addressed the media to thank them for their presence and to ask for a favour: “Stop especially at the diagnoses, which is the heavy part. This is where the Synod expressed itself best. In view of some controversies that arose around the question of viri probati (ordination of married priests), the female diaconate or the theft of Amazonian images, the Pope invited us to focus our attention on a careful analysis of reality and on a fourfold conversion: pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal. That is to say, in the “heavy part” and in the “road to hope”.
– Pastoral conversion consists of a Samaritan church, which navigates the waters that unite and do not separate, which accompanies concrete faces and which practices a spirituality of listening and proclamation.
– Cultural conversion consists in a church that exposes itself to otherness and learns from it, that lives and practices inculturation and interculturality, that is an ally of the peoples in its territories and promotes intercultural dialogue in a global world.
– Ecological conversion consists in a church that recognizes the wounds caused by the human being in the territory, learns from the brothers and sisters of the original peoples for the care of the common house and looks for new answers for a just and solidary development for all people.
– Synodal conversion consists of a church that walks together, that seeks new ecclesial paths in the ministeriality and sacredness of the church with an Amazonian face, that unites the hands and hearts of consecrated persons, laity and particularly women, that fosters a culture of dialogue, reciprocal listening, discernment, consensus and communion to find spaces and ways of joint decision making.
Everything is interconnected. Everything in this common house. The Synod on the Amazon which took place in Rome between 4 and 27 October is another step in the long journey that Pope Francis and, together with him, the Catholic Church, have begun to interpret contemporary reality and sustain hope. Which, once again, comes from the periphery. And has the face of an Amazonian woman.
*This article was written in Spanish and translated into English by Alicia Aleman Arrastio (ALBOAN Foundation). She attended events at the Common Home during the Synod in Rome. The article will be published by the Catholic magazine “Mensajero”.
(Banner photo by Itinerary Team)
Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region. 2019. Instrumentum Laboris. Amazonia: New ways for the church and for an integral ecology. Jun 27, 2019. Retrieved from: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/es/bollettino/pubblico/2019/06/17/ins.html
Francis I. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to Bishops, Priests and Deacons to Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World. Nov 24, 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html
Francis I. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’on the Care of the Common House. May 24, 2015. Retrieved from: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
Francis I. Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio on the Synod of Bishops. Sep 15, 2018. Retrieved from: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/apost_constitutions/documents/papa-francesco_costituzione-ap_20180915_episcopalis-communio.html
Ospina, Robby. 2019. Results Report. Mapping of Fe y Alegría Educational Centers in the Amazon Biome. Colombia: Fe y Alegria Federation, Servicio Jesuita Panamazónico (SJPAM), Xavier Network.
Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM). 2019. Pan-Amazonian Atlas. Approach to the Ecclesial and Socio-Environmental Reality. Contributions to the Synod of the Amazon. Retrieved from: https://redamazonica.org/atlas/Red
Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial (REPAM). 2019. Informe Regional de Vulneración de Derechos Humanos en la Panamazonía. Weaving Networks of Resistance and Struggle in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Quito: REPAM.
Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM). 2019. Synod of Bishops. Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region. Amazonia: New ways for the Church and for an Integral Ecology. Working document. Simplified version.