Pope Affirms Catholic Church’s Duty to Indigenous Amazonians Hurt by Climate Change
Images from Rome show tribal leaders in traditional feather headdresses alongside Vatican officials in their regalia. They are gathered with hundreds of bishops, priests, religious sisters and missionaries to discuss the pastoral, cultural and ecological struggles of the Amazon.
The Amazon meeting is part of Pope Francis's efforts to build a "Church which listens." Since taking office in 2013, Francis has revitalized the Catholic Church's practice of "synods" — a Greek word meaning "council" — expanding decision-making in the church beyond the Vatican bureaucracy to gather input from the entire church, including from lay people.
Voting on synod decisions, however, remains restricted to bishops and some male clergy.
The Amazon synod is the first such meeting to be organized for a specific ecological region. Media coverage of this event has emphasized its more controversial debates — such as the possibility of easing celibacy requirements in the rural Amazon, where priests are in extremely short supply.
But its focus is much broader: listening to the suffering of the Amazon — particularly the environmental challenges facing the region — and discerning how to respond as a global church.
Amazon in Crisis
After more than a decade of environmental policies that successfully slowed deforestation in the Amazon, logging and agricultural clearing have begun to increase rapidly again. The fires in the Brazilian rainforest that captured headlines in early September are symptoms of much broader destruction.
Up to 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has already been eliminated — dangerously close to the 20 percent to 40 percent tipping point that experts say would lead the entire ecosystem to collapse.
Stories of deforestation can seem insignificant against the vastness of the Amazon, a region two-thirds the size of the lower 48 United States.
But for the 390 indigenous ethnic groups who inhabit the region, each burned forest grove, polluted stream or flooded dam site may mark the end of a way of life that's survived for thousands of years.
Deprived of their land, many indigenous Amazonians are forced into an exposed life on the edge of frontier towns, where they are prey to sex trafficking, slave labor and violence. In Brazil alone, at least 1,119 indigenous people have been killed defending their land since 2003.
The Catholic Church recognizes that it still has to address the "open wound" of its own role in the colonial-era violence that first terrorized the indigenous peoples of the Americas, according to the synod's working document. The church legitimated the colonial confiscation of lands occupied by indigenous peoples and its missionaries often suppressed indigenous cultures and religions.
For this reason, according to the Vatican, organizers of the synod have sought input through 260 listening events held in the region that reached nearly 87,000 people over the past two years. Indigenous leaders have been invited as observer participants in the meeting itself.
Learning From Indigenous Peoples
As a theologian who studies religious responses to the environmental crisis, I find the pope's effort to learn from the indigenous people of the Amazon noteworthy.
The Vatican sees that the Amazon's traditional residents know something much of humanity has long forgotten: how to live in ecological harmony with the environment.
"To the aboriginal communities we owe their thousands of years of care and cultivation of the Amazon," the 58-page synod working document reads. "In their ancestral wisdom they have nurtured the conviction that all of creation is connected, and this deserves our respect and responsibility."
Pope Francis has expressed his respect for indigenous peoples before.
At a meeting of indigenous leaders in Peru in January 2018 he said, "Your lives cry out against a style of life that is oblivious to its own real cost. You are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home."
Global Problems, Local Solutions
Environmental destruction isn't the synod's only concern.
Catholicism — long the dominant religion in Latin America — is rapidly losing members to evangelical Protestantism. Evangelicals are projected to eclipse Catholics in Brazil by 2032.
One advantage evangelical churches have in Amazonian countries is that they can appoint local indigenous pastors to minister to their communities. Meanwhile, with less than one priest per 8,000 Catholics in the Amazon, some isolated communities might see a priest only once a year.
The scarcity of priests in rural Latin America is behind a proposal to the synod to ordain older married men as priests in isolated Amazonian communities.
In the the U.S., the celibacy question is easily mapped onto a familiar divide. Progressive Catholics argue that clerical celibacy should be optional, while conservative Catholics insist this discipline is fundamental to the faith.
The issue is far less politicized in the Amazon, where, in the words of one bishop, the Catholic Church remains a "visiting church" with limited day-to-day presence in indigenous communities.
Some might dismiss this synod as just a meeting. But, in my judgment, it is an attempt to apply Francis' vision of a "listening Church" to the environmental crisis. The Synod of the Amazon marks a significant shift from high-minded papal exhortations about taking climate action to a global religious community that gives voice to those living on the front lines of ecological destruction.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
Vincent J. Miller is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton.
- 56 Million Native American Deaths Caused by European Colonizers ... ›
- 3 Massacres in 12 Days Suspected in Brazilian Amazon - EcoWatch ›
- Gold Miners Murder Indigenous Leader, Force Villagers in Brazil's ... ›
Could mouthwash help stop the spread of the new coronavirus?
- How to Stop Touching Your Face to Minimize Spread of Coronavirus ... ›
- Vodka Won't Protect You From Coronavirus, and 4 Other Things to ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
- 41% of UK Species Have Declined Since 1970, Major Report Finds ... ›
- One in Eight Bird Species Threatened With Extinction, Study Finds ... ›
- Pesticides to Blame for UK's Declining Turtle Dove Population ... ›
We pet owners know how much you love your pooch. It's your best friend. It gives you pure happiness and comfort when you're together. But there are times that dogs can be very challenging, especially if they are suffering from a certain ailment. As a dog owner, all you want to do is ease whatever pain or discomfort your best friend is feeling.
Life-sized, ultra-realistic robotic dolphins could help end animal captivity by replacing living creatures in aquariums and theme parks.
- Keeping Large Mammals Captive Damages Their Brains - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Combine AI With Biology to Create Xenobots, the World's ... ›
- Singapore Uses 'Scary' Robot Dog to Enforce Social Distancing ... ›
By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.