Father Peter Hughes is a missionary priest originally from Ireland who has lived and worked in Peru for over 50 years. As the Amazon Synod begins, he tells us about the importance of the Amazon for the whole world.
A central element of our faith is to defend the gift of life, and the gift of life is God’s gift to us all. We are called by our humanity and particularly by our faith to respect and to do everything possible to defend life when life is threatened.
The Church network that we are involved in is a movement that started within the Catholic Church to bring about an awareness and a call to action, so that Christians understand that the defence of the Amazon is at the centre of our faith. It’s not just something that we talk about, it’s something we are called to do something about.
The Amazon – a world issue
When Pope Francis visited Latin America in 2013, he said he wanted the Latin American Church to do something new and special so that the Church could play its part in defending the Amazon. Speaking six years ago, he explained that 20% of the Amazon is now destroyed – it is irreparably lost.
We are in the midst of a process of destruction of this huge geographical area that is very important, not only for the people who live in the Amazon and not only for Latin America, but for the greater, wider world.
When we speak about the Amazon, it is also a planetary issue because the destruction of the rainforest directly impinges on our world climate. The major issues like climate change, what is happening to the balance of rainfall all over the world, depend on a large part on places like the Amazon.
20% of the world’s drinking water and 20% of the world’s oxygen come from the Amazon. If the rate of destruction continues to happen as it is happening right now, there is not going to be enough drinking water and oxygen in the air for the world’s population, which is now close to eight billion people. Unfortunately, fresh drinking water and oxygen cannot be created by human beings, that’s why we are so involved in the Amazon as a world issue, not just a Latin American issue.
Pope Francis travelled to Peru in January last year and visited a small place in the eastern part of Peru in the Amazon area, a town called Puerto Maldonado. He explained that the Amazon is under threat and gave thanks to the indigenous people who have kept faith and protected the rainforest for thousands of years in very hostile conditions. It was in Puerto Maldonado that Pope Francis inaugurated a Synod on the Amazon.
Preparing for the Amazon Synod
Over the past few months, a hundred local churches spread over the Amazon region have been involved in a process of consultation with the Amazon people.
Indigenous communities have had the opportunity to make their voices heard about the situation they live in: their experiences of the destruction of their rivers and contamination of their water; their experiences of fish being poisoned with mercury and oil spills destroying trees, land and rivers and above all human life.
Indigenous people are struggling to continue to have the right to stay on their own lands. They have been in charge of their own areas for thousands of years and now they are being forcibly removed by economic and political powers. They do not feel protected or represented by their own governments.
We think it is important for the people of the Amazon themselves to be represented in the Synod. The Synod is not just a question of people like me. There must be a representation of women, of young people from the Amazon to be able to share their situation to the world at large and to the Church at large.
Voice of the Amazon people
During the consultation process, many voices were heard and we have a moral responsibility to be true to this expression of a new voice. The voice of the Amazon people is something new. It’s a richer voice than maybe our own. For people coming from the Amazon, what’s most important is the territory – the territory is life and life is the territory. Both are united and integrated together.
A new way for us to be is to have a greater sense of the Earth. That we are not fully human unless we rediscover, as Pope Francis says, that we are part of nature. That we are part of creation, that we have no existence if we understand ourselves as separated or disconnected.