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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pope to Brazil's bishops: Protect the Amazon

During the last full day of World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis gave his most notable mention of the environment thus far not to the millions of young pilgrims but to the local bishops.

Moreover, this environmental mention was not some passing reference about one issue among many. As with his predecessors, Pope Francis hammered home the importance of the Church’s place in ecological protection with this exhortation: how the Brazilian church deals with the Amazon Basin is nothing less than a “litmus test” of its overall effectiveness.

Given that most of the nations that make up the Amazon Basin have a Catholic majority, it seems a fair question: Just what should the Church do that it is not already doing to slow the gluttonous evisceration and social injustices of this globally important ecosystem?

Here are the pontiff’s words within a section of his address called “The Amazon Basin as a litmus test for Church and society in Brazil.”
There is one final point on which I would like to dwell, which I consider relevant for the present and future journey not only of the Brazilian Church but of the whole society, namely, the Amazon Basin. The Church’s presence in the Amazon Basin is not that of someone with bags packed and ready to leave after having exploited everything possible. The Church has been present in the Amazon Basin from the beginning, in her missionaries and religious congregations, and she is still present and critical to the area’s future. I think of the welcome which the Church in the Amazon Basin is offering even today to Haitian immigrants following the terrible earthquake which shook their country.
I would like to invite everyone to reflect on what [Our Lady of ] Aparecida said about the Amazon Basin, its forceful appeal for respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden. In considering the pastoral challenge represented by the Amazon Basin, I have to express my thanks for all that the Church in Brazil is doing: the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon Basin established in 1997 has already proved its effectiveness and many dioceses have responded readily and generously to the appeal for solidarity by sending lay and priestly missionaries. I think Archbishop Jaime Chemelo, a pioneer in this effort, and Cardinal Hummes, the current President of the Commission. But I would add that the Church’s work needs to be further encouraged and launched afresh. There is a need for quality formators, especially professors of theology, for consolidating the results achieved in the area of training a native clergy and providing priests suited to local conditions and committed to consolidating, as it were, the Church’s “Amazonian face”.

Photo: Flicker/Threat to Democracy
The Holy Father was certainly referring to more than just the natural environment. He was also dealing with pressing social and ecclesial realities. But this strong blending of an environmental issue with such others is not surprising given that—as Pope Benedict XVI and Bl. John Paul II have noted—there is a link between the natural world and respect for the human person. 

With this link firmly infused within Catholic thought, the pontiff (a chemist by education) could easily hold aloft the response to the terrible destruction within the Amazon Basin as a litmus test of the will and the ways of the Church of Brazil.

Likewise, the handling of other and related environmental crises are also litmus tests of the will and the ways of local churches across the globe.

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