Vatican City, Oct 6 (AFP/APP):Pope Francis will gather Catholic bishops at the Vatican Sunday to champion the isolated and poverty-struck indigenous communities of the Amazon, whose way of life is under threat.
The global spotlight has recently been on the world’s largest rainforest, which is vital for the planet but is suffering from its worst outbreak of fires in years, due in part to an acceleration in deforestation.
The working document for the “synod”, which mainly brings together bishops from nine Pan-Amazonian countries, denounces in scathing terms social injustices and crimes, including murders, as well as suggesting a Church action plan.
“Listen to the cry of ‘Mother Earth’, assaulted and seriously wounded by the economic model of predatory and ecocidal development… which kills and plunders, destroys and devastates, expels and discards,” the 80-page document says.
The run-up to the three-week synod, or assembly, saw some 260 events held in the Amazon region involving 80,000 people, in a bid to give the local populations a voice in the document.
Among those attending the synod as an observer is Sister Laura Vincuna, a missionary trying to protect the territories of the Caripuna indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon.
“Help us defend our motherland, we have no other home!” she said on Saturday.
“Earth, water, forest: without these three elements nobody can do anything,” she said on the eve of the synod.
– Controversial ideas –
Sunday’s gathering comes as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate-change sceptic, told the United Nations that the world’s media were lying about the Amazon, and attacked indigenous leaders as tools of foreign governments.
In his 2015 encyclical on ecology and climate change “Laudato Si”, Francis denounced the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest in the name of “enormous international economic interests”.
Last year the world’s first Latin American pope visited Puerto Maldonado, a village in southeastern Peru surrounded by the Amazon jungle, to meet thousands of indigenous Peruvians, Brazilians and Bolivians.
That trip was the first step towards this synod, which opens Sunday with a mass in St. Peter’s Square.
Francis’ hopes of bringing the Catholic faith to far-flung populations will also see the bishops gathered in Rome debate a highly controversial proposal — allowing married men to become priests.
The issue deeply upsets some traditionalists, who argue that making an exception for the Amazon would open the door to the end of celibacy for priests, which is not a Church law and only dates back to the 11th century.
The German Catholic Church in particular, which has an influential progressive wing, has been hotly debating the subject.
The synod, which runs until October 27, will also reflect on making official roles for women, who already play a central part in the Amazonian Church.
Of the 184 prelates at the synod, 113 hail from the Amazonian region, including 57 from Brazil.
Others taking part include 17 representatives of Amazonian indigenous peoples and ethnic groups, and 35 women — who will not have the right to vote on the final document.