Hopes for the Amazon Synod

At a festival celebrating indigenous culture, Manaus, Brazil a girl dances with a young child

The historic Synod on the Amazon starts this week in Rome. For our Theology team, Harriet Paterson finds out the hopes of people at the heart of the story.

“This Synod revolves around life: the life of the Amazon territory and its peoples, the life of the Church, the life of the planet.”

Instrumentum Laboris #8

Pope Francis has invited the Church, and the world, to contemplate the fragile situation of the Amazon biome and its traditional peoples. This year’s disastrous rise in deliberate forest fires across Brazil underlines the urgency of his call.

As 300 bishops and Church leaders gather in Rome for the Amazon Synod, indigenous leaders will walk amongst them, bringing stories of resistance, but also of persecution, poverty and cultural loss.

What is an Amazon Synod? Read our Q&A to find out more

Yesica, an indigenous woman from the Peruvian Amazon stands with arms outstretched in prayer
Yesica met Pope Francis when he went to the Peruvian Amazon. Photo: Pavel Martiarena Huaman

For decades CAFOD has worked for human and environmental rights in Amazonia, so we feel excited that people who are so often persecuted or ignored are being heard on the world stage.

“I think that indigenous communities are the most invisible people on the planet,” says Yesica Patiachi Tayori of the Harakbut indigenous community in Peru’s Amazon basin. “But our cry has been heard by Pope Francis – the cry of indigenous communities who are suffering and have suffered.”

Pope Francis heard our cry

Teacher and painter Yesica will be one of the specially selected indigenous representatives at the Synod. She felt incredibly lucky to meet Pope Francis during his 2018 visit to Peru, when she implored him to defend the indigenous people:

“He was moved by the Amazon. I think the Synod is the Catholic Church’s response to the Amazonian people’s cry. For me, the Synod means hope, reflection and dialogue. It will give visibility to the problems we are facing.

“I hope this Synod won’t just remain as a document but leads to action. The Synod needs to shake us. It has to summon us, call us to act. What are we leaving for future generations?”

A listening project

Indigenous people are telling us how important it feels to them to be heard. “This is a sacred moment,” says Mario Nicacio of the Wapixana people of Brazil.

“Awareness is being raised about all our actions, especially about the rights of indigenous people, the balance of nature and the fight against climate change.”

We have been supporting local communities to give input into the Synod. A truly amazing listening project has taken place across the nine countries of the Amazon.

“We need to embrace the wisdom of the indigenous people and learn from them,” says Mauricio López of REPAM, a Catholic network behind the project.

“We hope the Synod will be a catalyst to open new pathways for the Church. We must start with a radical conversion of the heart.”

Two women stand in a window talking to Marcivana who stands outside.
Marcivana (right), from Manaus, Brazil, gave her input to the Synod. Photo: Marcella Haddad / Caritas

A remarkable 87,000 Amazonian people came forward to talk about their burning issues. These have been distilled into the Synod’s working document, and include human rights abuses, environmental devastation, migration and violence against women.

New pathways for the Amazon

“The Synod doesn’t want to be only a space for a few people,” says Yesica. It is a process rooted in the people of the Amazon, who have bold suggestions for how things must change.

All of us need to change our habits to favour renewable energy and end the throwaway culture, suggests the document. More women should be in leadership roles in the Church. Teams should be set up to welcome and integrate migrants.

 “The Synod is already having an impact on the Church and society,” says Cardinal Pedro Barreto, vice-president of REPAM. “For the first time, a social and ecclesial institution is taking the reality of how indigenous communities live very seriously.”

Mauricio López told us how people rely on their churches in places where governments have too often mistreated their original peoples:

“Indigenous communities trust the Church,” he explains, “and we are standing alongside them to defend their territory, their identity and their culture.”

It’s about all of us

The future of the region and its peoples concerns us all. “When the Amazon suffers, we all suffer,” said the bishops of Latin America recently.

Not only is the rainforest a frontline defence against global warming, but its traditional inhabitants teach us lessons about how to live in close cooperation with the natural world.

An indigenous Kambeba leader and his daughter fishing in the Brazilian Amazon.
An indigenous Kambeba leader and his daughter fishing in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo: Marcella Haddad / Caritas

“Amazonian culture and indigenous communities have a perfect harmony with water, the earth and air,” reflects Cardinal Barreto. “As Pope Francis says, they are the great teachers who can show us what we must be – careful protectors of God’s gifts.” 

It is clear what the peoples of the Amazon are hoping for from the Synod and from the world: to save them and their home before it is too late.

“There will be a point when we are not going to have this richness,” points out Yesica. “And then what will we do?”

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