My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
After each Synod of the Church, a system that began after the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father issues a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. In this document, the Holy Father reviews the results of the general Synod working groups, the Synod itself where he has been present, and offers his own exhortation. On February 12, 2020, Pope Francis issued “Querida Amazonia,” meaning Beloved Amazon.
His reflections are “four great dreams that the Amazon region inspired in me.” The first is “A Social Dream,” which reminded me of the famous “I Have a Dream” sermon of Martin Luther King, Jr. where he envisioned something new and better for the future of the African-American people of the United States.
The Old Testament tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” And so, it is too that we will perish in a world without vision, without dreams, without those who are prophets and speak for God. In his exhortation, the Holy Father gives us very sincere and well-thought-out challenges for the Church.
In his first dream, “A Social Dream,” Pope Francis says, “I dream of an Amazon region that fights for the rights of the poor, the original peoples and the least of our brothers and sisters, where their voices can be heard and their dignity advanced.” In the Amazon, there are 110 aboriginal tribes, people who are living in another world. Living inthe Amazon that nourishes them, we might say that they are poor people without culture; however, they have a tremendous culture that needs to be understood and respected.
Unfortunately, the very lives of these people are at risk, as the taking of lands and the outright violence against them by outsiders has pushed them further back into the jungle. These are true communities, many of which have been evangelized and wish to continue their way of life undisturbed.
How important it is that we support these original inhabitants of a vast part of Latin America so that they will not be annihilated, but rather respected and allowed to live, albeit in a modern world, according to their own preferences and customs.
The second dream of the Holy Father is entitled “A Cultural Dream.” He says, “I dream of an Amazon region that can preserve its distinctive cultural riches, where the beauty of our humanity shines forth in so many varied ways.” Some of this region has been colonized by the modern world, using its resources to advance modern society, which uses the resources of the land to produce products for our capitalistic system. The Amazon rainforest is specifically titled the Amazonian polyhedron, meaning that it is a unique area covering many countries: Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Bolivia,
Suriname, and French Guiana.
It is here that we see the beginning of the culture of a distinct region. The endemic people are not to be considered as “…uncivilized savages. They are simply heirs to different cultures and other forms of civilization that in earlier times were quite developed,” as the Holy Father says. The peoples of the Amazon live in accord with the nature around them. They respect nature and God’s creations, the animals with whom they live, and from whom they derive their sustenance. If we could only learn to be as sensitive as these people, the world might be a better place.
The third dream of the Holy Father is “An Ecological Dream,” where he says, “I dream of an Amazon region that can jealously preserve its overwhelming natural beauty and the super-abundant life teeming in its rivers and forests.” The Amazon is an ecosystem unique in the world. The Amazon has been called the lung of the world because it is here that oxygen is produced. Even though the climate is very warm, the oxygen produced by the plants allows the earth to breathe, it restores oxygen where we had been losing it because of the people of the world polluting the atmosphere with fossil fuels.
Just like the lung of the body, it is stifled and eventually will die. And so, the Amazon is that lung that we need to survive. We need to take care of the Amazon. Our Holy Father says, “The equilibrium of our planet also depends on the health of the Amazon region. Together with the biome of the Congo and Borneo, it contains a dazzling diversity of woodlands on which rain cycles, climate balances, and a great variety of living beings also depend. It serves as a great filter of carbon dioxide, which helps avoid the warming of the earth. For the most part, its surface is poor in topsoil, with the result that the forest ‘really grows on the soil and not from the topsoil.’”
In his Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home), the Holy Father has made a clear commitment and made it something that we must contemplate as Christians the care of our common home. In a unique way, the Amazon goes beyond the nations that contain it. It is that lung for the world that is so badly needed. We must . work together to make sure that nations respect the ecological treasure of God’s creation, which is found in the Amazon region.
The last dream of the Holy Father is “An Ecclesial Dream,” a dream for the Church. He says, “The Church is called to journey alongside the people of the Amazon region.” The Amazon is part of the great human phenomenon of development. We see things being used for a greater good, while at the same time, there is a need to respect what is taken from the Amazon to make sure that it is for a greater good and not for the unintended destruction of an ecological treasure.
The Church is a missionary Church. It has set out to evangelize the world from its very beginning. The evangelization of Latin America was spearheaded by colonization, which had many bad aspects, whereas evangelization has endured with good results. The geography of the Amazon region, the isolation of its peoples, and the lack of ecclesial personnel are certainly a concern. Many believed that the Synod would
approve, or suggest, the ordination of women as priests or women as deacons. Some were disappointed that this did not happen, but a greater consensus of the whole Church, perhaps an Ecumenical Council, might be needed to make such a decision.
Our Holy Father chose not to emphasize the lack of personnel, but rather to exhort us to develop personnel from the rest of the world to assist the Amazon region. In particular, it is clear regarding the celebration of the Eucharist, which must be enculturated, as has been told to us by the Second Vatican Council, as something that comes from the people and enhances their worship of God by respecting the culture and the symbols that are most dear to them. Pope Francis says, “It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry.”
In regard to the celebration of the Eucharist, the Holy Father goes on to say, “In the Eucharist, God, ‘in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. For this reason, it can be a “motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.”
The Holy Father particularly thanks the women who have carried on ministry in the Amazon, many times without the help of a priest. We cannot forget Sister Dorothy Mae Stang, S.N.D., who was born in the United States but actually became a naturalized Brazilian citizen. She was a martyr giving her life in defense of these indigenous people.
Pope Francis said, “For centuries, women have kept the Church alive in those places through their remarkable devotion and deep faith. Some of them, speaking at the Synod, moved us profoundly by their testimony.”
This much-watched Synod of the Amazon has concluded in the Apostolic Exhortation as presented to us. We must take time to put out into the deeper understanding of this complex place in the world that has something to do with each and every one of us.
We are stewards of God’s creation. God has given the Amazon to us, and we are to be the tillers, we are to be those who reap its benefits, but we must also be its protectors.
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