Standing alongside indigenous communities

Mauricio López, the Executive Secretary of CAFOD partner REPAM

Mauricio López is the Executive Secretary of REPAM – a Catholic Church network CAFOD supports that promotes the rights and dignity of the people in the Amazon. As the Amazon Synod takes place, Mauricio tells us about the threats indigenous communities in the Amazon face and the important role they play in protecting our planet.

What are some of the challenges faced by indigenous people living in the Amazon?

Approximately 20-25% of the Amazon has been deforested. If we continue with the same economic approach, there will be no future for the Amazon and then eventually no future for humankind. We are all connected and the economic decisions by those in power impact the lives of the people in the Amazon.

The problem is not the ecological crisis itself but inequality. The poor and the poorest of the poor are excluded from our current system. If you go to cities in the Amazon, poverty is immense. The poorest lack the basic elements for a plentiful life. I’ve been to Manaus in Brazil where Amazonian people living 300 metres away from the river don’t have access to clean water or food. Families don’t have a clean environment for their children or a proper space to live.

What is REPAM doing to support the Amazon and its people?

The Church has been called by indigenous communities to be with them. Indigenous communities trust the Church and we are standing alongside them to defend their territory, their identity and their culture.

We accompany indigenous territories that are facing very hard times. Indigenous communities are often threatened by extractive industries, large corporations and face persecution and criminalisation by companies and the state. Community leaders are being murdered.

At REPAM we are raising awareness on human rights with indigenous communities so they can defend their rights and document cases of abuse in the Amazon to then engage with international forums such as the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

REPAM was asked by Pope Francis to have a consultation process to prepare for the Synod and we wanted to give indigenous communities a chance to speak for themselves. We completed 260 listening moments in all 9 countries of the Pan- Amazon region where 87,000 people directly participated.

It is not about the Synod as an event but about synodality which means walking together and listening to one another. Pope Francis calls for the periphery to become the centre. This periphery can enlighten us. How will we respond to this invitation to walk together?

Read our Theology team’s hopes for the Amazon Synod

What needs to change?

Today we are in an alarming situation. We are already going past the capacity to heal our planet. We are using the equivalent of 1.6 planets, at the very least. Laudato Si’ is an appeal from Pope Francis for us to change. What is at stake is the future of our world and the indigenous communities in the Amazon are the ones who are protecting the forests for the sake of our planet’s survival. We cannot fail this time. We are in a very serious situation and indigenous communities in the Amazon can be part of the answer.

We need to learn from indigenous communities, not to become them but learn from the lessons they can share about spirituality and relationships with one another and with mother earth. We need to embrace the wisdom of the indigenous people and learn from them. The mystery of life is represented in indigenous communities.

Let us pray for the Amazon

Let us connect ourselves with the reality of the Amazon and invite the voices and faces of the Amazon to be with us today. Let us listen to indigenous people’s hopes, their cries and their struggles. Take a moment to think about the Amazon, what comes into your mind and your heart?

The ecological crisis calls us for a response, and we need a conversion. We are responsible for those who are still to come. Among the poorest of the poor today are the next generation. We as the Church are looking into the future and the possibility for people to have a plentiful life with opportunities. It’s about the future of all humankind. The future of the Amazon is profoundly linked with our own future. Take action to curb the climate crisis.

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