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This coming October 6-27, 2019, the Synod for the Amazon will be held in Rome with the theme: “New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology”. The Synod will focus on new paths for evangelization, integral ecology and indigenous people and will be for us, SVDs a good opportunity to deepen the understanding of our missionary commitment. --- Fr. Daisuke Narui, SVD

The Amazonian region, a paradise of biodiversity, is also known as our planet’s green lung, - generating 20% of earth’s oxygen and constituting one third of the world’s rain forests that spread over nine countries of South America. The Amazon river, to which the region owes its name to some extent, is the mother of all rivers, providing over 20% of fresh water suitable for consumption.

The Amazonian indigenous inhabitants, with their enormous ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversities, coexist in communion with one another and in harmony with creation. They are the custodians of the region’s resources, and the living memory of our mission to protect our common home, which God has entrusted to all of us. What happens in Amazonia significantly affects the entire earth.

We are aware that the appalling approach, attitude and the activities in Amazonia, with distorted development policies, have adversely affected the ecosystem of the region, undermined the rights of the indigenous people, discarded their wealth of wisdom, and created a devastating impact on the entire planet.

These would include extreme and erratic weather conditions, extinction of species, excessive flooding, distressing droughts, escalating inequality and poverty, displacement and disappearance of indigenous communities, etc. Commercial and consumeristic interests competing to control the “inexhaustible” natural resources of the region, extractive industries, and expansionist elements excessively exploiting the region’s riches, companies and groups with a colonial mindset corroding the culture and the ‘cosmovision’ of the indigenous people, construction of hydroelectric megaprojects, building highways at the cost of rainforests etc., have all heavily contributed to contaminating the lakes, rivers, land, biome and sacredness of the region.

Besides all these, indiscriminate logging, illegal mining, commercial cultivation of narcotics, blatant violations of basic human rights, criminalization of human rights defenders and demonizing the indigenous cultures have campaigned together to cause a huge imbalance in the ecosystem and drastically change the very nature and composition of the Amazonian atmosphere.

It is in this context, the category of ‘integral ecology’ advocated by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si (Chapter IV) and his call to address the anomalies in Amazonia by proposing to convene a ‘Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region’ in October 2019, that these issues assume supreme importance. He urges us to collectively discern New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology for Amazonia.

Integral ecology is a project that promotes harmony between God, humans and nature. It promotes authentic progress that serves a harmonious relationship between social and environmental spheres. It integrates ecological concerns with ethical imperatives. That is, while caring for our common home, integral ecology ensures protection of the indigenous people and their basic rights. It aims at promoting human dignity, common good, harmonious living, the wisdom of indigenous cultures, and care for the environment. Integral ecology is rooted in an incarnational ecclesiology. The latter provides a basis to understand, acknowledge, appreciate and revere the living presence of the incarnate Christ in nature, in the endangered indigenous peoples and communities of Amazonia. Therefore, the Church’s evangelical engagements are inevitably connected to the care for our common home and human dignity.

The preparatory document for the Synod on Amazonia, while aiming to explore New Paths, emphasizes that our missionary pursuits in Amazonia have to manifest our sense of solidarity and dialogue with the indigenous people, demonstrate our willingness to learn from the wealth of their wisdom, display our commitment to their cause of justice and right, and reveal our resolve to proclaim the gospel of harmony. Christian missionaries have been instrumental in bringing about positive transformation by evangelizing, educating, and enriching cultures while participating in the socio-economic and political liberation of the region. However, colored and clouded by the colonial legacy, those missionary activities perhaps inadvertently introduced certain elements that have been disruptive to the rhythm of life in the region.

Discerning New Paths in Amazonia should include serious soul searching and radical conversion. With the substantial SVD presence in five of the nine countries of Amazonia, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and French Guiana, and with eight vibrant Provinces/Regions for about 115 years, we have shared the struggles of these indigenous and endangered people, and have made a definite difference in their lives. In the countries we have been serving, we see how the extractive companies, in connivance with the governments, exploit the indigenous people, undermining their rights, jeopardizing their livelihood, encroaching on their territory, desecrating their sacred sites, destroying the biodiversity and polluting the region, all under the pretext of progress!

Some of the indigenous communities in these territories, such as the Tagaeri Taromenani and Tundayme peoples in Ecuador, the Yaminawa, Munduruku, Buriticupu and Yanomami peoples in Brazil, the Vereda Chaparrito and Caqueta peoples in Colombia, the TIPNIS and Mosetene peoples in Bolivia had to face colossal damage, death and even disappearance.

La Lucha del Agua (the war for water) and tambien la Lluvia (also the rain) led to massacre and mockery in Cochabamba. We lent our voices to their cause and participated in their fight against injustice and exploitation. Yet, we know very well that our mission is incomplete and “non-negotiable”. As our 18th General Chapter urges us (2018 GC, nos.40-41, p.37), giving heed to the call of Pope Francis, we need to make our “characteristic” presence more visible in the region.

Consolidating our characteristic presence would amount to promoting prophetic dialogue, intensifying our commitment to interculturality, revitalizing our resolve to establish ethical and ecological integrity (JPIC), and pioneering progressive ways of proclaiming the Word in the region. “Care for the environment is not only part of our mission, it is also part of our heritage. St. Arnold Janssen believed that nature is the temple of God into which God placed us so that it would proclaim to us God’s existence. As transforming missionary disciples, stewardship of creation is our responsibility in expressing God’s love.” (2018 GC, no.44, p.39)

We have umpteen avenues and unlimited opportunities in Amazonia, but we are faced with paucity of funds and personnel. We need to strive hard to give an Amazonian outlook to the local Church and to our Society. As major stakeholders, present in over 80% of the Amazonian territory, we are committed to intensify and expedite our efforts to conserve the indigenous cultures, customs and cosmology that manifest their wisdom and worldview, construct a collective and comprehensive vision for the region, conceive collaborative endeavors with other religious congregations and organizations with similar intent, create common goals in consultation with the local people, and adopt innovative ways of recruiting indigenous vocations that would afford credibility and consistency to our mission.

The painful fact of climate change has led to a positive awakening as well. It has led to conversions and convergence of hearts for a concerted and continued effort to avert the impending catastrophe. We are an important part and animators of this movement. It is heartwarming to see some of the Divine Word Missionaries actively involved in the REPAM (Red Ecclesial Panamazonica) movement, an ecclesial network that promotes collaboration and communion for the common project of the Kingdom of God in Amazonia.

Besides communion, what is fundamental to this common project is the experience of conversion that is integral, enveloping personal, pastoral, social, cultural, ecological and ethical aspects (Laudato Si, §210-11) of our life and mission. It consists in radical behavioral change, conscientious choices of consumption patterns, sacramentalizing the gifts of Nature, promoting harmony of life at all costs, and furthering a serene future for coming generations. It is our hope that our New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology in Amazonia will serve as a paradigm for the rest of the world in caring for our common home.

By Father Superior General Paulus Budi Kleden and the Leadership Team

Published in the newsletter “Arnoldo Nota”- July 2019