International News

Amazon Fires Receive Muted Reaction from U.S. Hierarchy

Fires burning in the Amazon rainforest are pictured from space by the geostationary weather satellite GOES-16 Aug. 21, 2019. (Photo: CNS/NASA/NOAA)

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

NEW YORK — As fires ravage the Amazon rainforests, with few exceptions, U.S. Catholic leaders have yet to weigh in on what many world leaders are calling a potential global environmental disaster.

Last week the Catholic bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean issued a joint statement warning of the “gravity of this tragedy that not only has a local or a regional impact, but of planetary proportions.”

“If the Amazon suffers, the whole world suffers,” they said.

In a statement on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, their environmental point person, Bishop John Arnold, issued a statement saying they echo the concerns of the Latin American bishops.

“Prophetically, Pope Francis has written in preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Amazon ‘In the Amazon rainforest, which is of vital importance for the planet, a deep crisis has been triggered by prolonged human intervention, in which a ‘culture of waste’ and an extractivist mentality prevail. The Amazon is a region with rich biodiversity; it is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious; it is a mirror of all humanity which, in defense of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church,’” said Bishop Arnold.

“We join our voice with theirs to urge the governments of the Amazon countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community to take serious measures to save the lungs of the world. What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue but of global reach. If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers,” his statement continued.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has yet to issue a statement, with only a few individual bishops using their platforms to voice concern.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago offered the most extensive commentary on Saturday in a five-tweet thread on Twitter.

“Our very lives depend on it,” he wrote of the need for action.

“This grave threat to the planet demands the attention of cooperation of world leaders. It calls us to be, as Pope Francis put it, ‘guardians of creation, of the design of God inscribed in nature, guardians of the other, of the environment,” he continued.

Cardinal Cupich of Chicago weighs in on the Amazon fires. (Photo: Twitter)

In addition to Cardinal Cupich, Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee referenced the fires in another Twitter post where he sarcastically referenced climate change deniers.

“Yeh [sic] right,” he tweeted. “No such thing as climate change. Amazon is burning and the hottest July on record.”

Bishop Stika references the Amazon fires on Twitter. (Photo: Twitter)

Bishop David Talley of Memphis, Tennessee re-tweeted a post by Catholic historian and theologian Massimo Faggioli lamenting “If we continue to destroy creation and make the planet uninhabitable, nothing will matter anymore.”

Beyond the few U.S. bishops that have addressed the issue, most religious orders and U.S. Catholic organizations have also remained silent.

However, the Washington D.C.-based Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, a program of the Columban missionaries, has sent a series of tweets calling attention to the region.

Attention to the Amazon comes on the eve of a major Vatican summit on the Amazon region which will convene in Rome at the beginning of October.

While the Synod’s working document has noted that the primary concerns will be the region’s pastoral needs and that of evangelization, the document calls attention to the massive deforestation underway in the region for which the fires have been a significant contributing factor.

The Amazon produces 20 percent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere, and more than 1.5 million square miles of Amazon forest have already been lost to logging, farming, mining, roads, dams and other forms of human development.

“A region, known as the ‘Earth’s lungs,’ that produces 20% of the globe’s oxygen – burning,” Cardinal Cupich warned in a follow-up message. “This threatens indigenous peoples living in the region. It threatens every person on the planet.”