Pope in Peru: Don’t just protect the Amazon, protect its people

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Pope Francis arrives in Puerto Maldonado for an encounter with Peru's indigeneous Amazonian communities Jan. 19, 2018. Credit: Eduardo Berdejo/EWTN.

Speaking to members of Peru's indigenous Amazonian communities Friday, Pope Francis said that contrary to the consumerist mentality that places material objects above the good of the people, protecting the Amazon also means taking into account the best interests of those who live there.

“Allow me to state that if, for some, you are viewed as an obstacle or a hindrance, the fact is your lives cry out against a style of life that is oblivious to its own real cost,” the Pope told indigenous Peruvians Jan. 19.

“We have to break with the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants,” he continued, emphasizing that Amazonians are “a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

Pope Francis is visiting Peru from Jan. 18-21. During his first full day in the country, he met with indigenous people of the Amazon region in the city of Puerto Maldonado. The city lies in the Madre de Dios region in southeast Peru, and is considered the gateway to the southern Amazon jungle.

There are about 332,000 indigenous Peruvians living in the country’s Amazon region, of which 29,000 are within the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado.

The encounter included a performance of songs and dances by the ancient Arambut and an address by the Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Maldonado, Bishop David Martinez de Aguirre Guinea, O.P.

Before speaking, Francis also heard the testimonies of three Amazonian people. Copies of his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, translated into the local languages, were also distributed. Later in the day, he will have lunch with representatives of the Amazon.

In his speech, the Pope listed the different native groups which live in the Peruvian Amazon, thanking them for their attendance, and for giving him the opportunity to see, “closer up, in your faces, the reflection of this land.”

“It is a diverse face, one of infinite variety and enormous biological, cultural and spiritual richness,” he said.

The Pope also drew attention to the threats native Amazonians face on their own land, stating that at present they are probably some of the worst they’ve experienced.

He listed the different challenges they currently face, including “neo-extractivism,” which is when large businesses try to take possession of the petroleum, gas, lumber, and gold in the region.

There are also other movements that, “under the guise of preserving the forest, hoard great expanses of woodland and negotiate with them,” leading to situations of oppression for native people, who lose access to the land and its resources, he said.

Pointing to human trafficking, which he called a “devastating assault on life,” Francis strongly condemned, in particular, slave labor and sexual abuse, which are often linked with illegal mining, saying “the defense of the earth has no other purpose than the defense of life.”

He said that we cannot forget the words of St. Turibius, who at the Third Council of Lima in the 1500s said, “that not only in times past were great wrongs and acts of coercion done to these poor people, but in our own time many seek to do the same.”

“Sadly, five centuries later, these words remain timely,” he noted. “That prophecy must remain alive in our Church, which will never stop pleading for the outcast and those who suffer.”

Francis also focused on the good work of the Church in the Amazon, and the many missionaries throughout history who have devoted themselves to the region, defending its people and their cultures.

“Each culture and each worldview that receives the Gospel enriches the Church by showing a new aspect of Christ’s face,” he said. “Do not yield to those attempts to uproot the Catholic faith from your peoples.”

“The Church is not alien to your problems and your lives, she does not want to be aloof from your way of life and organization. We need the native peoples to shape the culture of the local churches in Amazonia,” he said.

He encouraged people to help their bishops and missionaries to be one with them, so that through inclusive dialogue they can help to shape the face of the Church.

It was in this spirit, Francis explained, that he decided to convoke an upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, which will take place in 2019.

The Pope also voiced his encouragement for those who use art, literature, craftsmanship and music to share their worldview and cultural richness with the world.

Much has been written and said about you by others, he said, but “it is good that you are now the ones to define yourselves and show us your identity. We need to listen to you.”

This is the reason I wanted to visit you and listen to you, he explained. “So that we can stand together, in the heart of the Church, and share your challenges and reaffirm with you a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

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