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If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers

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Canadians can’t extinguish the thousands of forest fires raging across the Amazon region but the devastation should become a call for Catholics to forge an alliance with the Indigenous people of the Amazon, says the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

As large swaths of the Amazon rainforest burn out of control, Development and Peace is hoping Canadians do something more than retweet another picture of the forest in flames. The development agency is launching a fall campaign to encourage Catholics in parishes and schools across Canada to learn about the Amazon and express solidarity with the Indigenous people whose way of life is being threatened.

These people should understand they are not alone, said Luke Stocking, Development and Peace deputy regional director for central Canada. “We have a responsibility to be allies to them.”

 The Development and Peace campaign comes as Brazil’s National Space Research Institute is reporting that 2019 has seen more than 40,000 wildfires break out in the Amazon region — the highest number since the agency began collecting fire data in 2013 and an 83-per-cent increase over 2018. Brazil is the epicentre of the crisis but huge fires also rage in Bolivia.

Brazil’s Catholic bishops have demanded their government take the situation seriously.

“This is not the time for diversions and ranting,” Brazil’s national conference of Catholic bishops said in an Aug. 23 statement aimed at President Jair Bolsonaro. He faces accusations of contributing to the inferno by encouraging farmers, loggers and ranchers to decimate the rainforest to make way for industry.

The Brazilian bishops were backed by the organization known as CELAM that represents bishops’ conferences throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. They called the forest fires in Brazil a “tragedy… of planetary proportions.”

“What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue, but of global reach. If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers,” they said.

In an Aug. 25 letter signed by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Cardinal Pedro Barreto and Mauricio Lopez, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network known as REPAM asked for the help of “all humanity” to demand “peaceful but firm action to put an end to this situation.” 

Canada has offered $15 million and water bombers to help fight the fires, while Britain and the G7 together pledged $40 million.

Pope Francis prayed for the Amazon at the Sunday Angelus in the Vatican Aug. 25. 

“That forest-lung is vital for our planet,” he said. He prayed that, “with the commitment of all,” the fires “might be contained as soon as possible.”

The Development and Peace campaign asks parishioners and Catholic students to express solidarity directly to the Indigenous people of the Amazon. “Solidarity Letters” in support of the rubber tree tappers (seringueiros) of Machadinho d’Oeste and the Mura people of Manaus are intended to show how much Canadians care about the world’s largest rainforest, source of 20 per cent of the planet’s oxygen and home to 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water.

The campaign has been launched under the banner “For Our Common Home,” with an eye on the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis to examine the Pan-Amazonian Region. 

Connecting with ordinary people who live off the land in the Amazon helps Canadians be part of a more universal Church, said Stocking.

The seringueiros tap rubber trees to supply the international market for natural rubber, as opposed to synthetic rubber made from oil. But their livelihoods are threatened by logging companies clear-cutting vast swaths of Rondonia State to produce tissues and toilet paper. 

Brazil’s conference of Catholic bishops has been helping the seringueiros defend their land and way of life in the courts and before state and federal politicians. They have also been Development and Peace partners since 1984.

The Mura people are losing more of their land to a huge potash mine being financed by a Toronto-based investment firm. With the help of Development and Peace partner REPAM, the Mura have managed to secure an interim court injunction against the mine on the grounds of insufficient consultation.

In the “Solidarity Letters” Catholics promise to “impel our government to hold Canadian companies to account for what they do on your lands.” 

For Development and Peace, the bonds between Canadians and the Amazon are a way for Canadians to be part of Pope Francis’ prophetic Laudato Si’ vision for the Church.

“The prophetic tradition is an undeniable part of our faith,” Stocking said. “That’s the role we at Development and Peace often ascribe to ourselves — to be a prophetic voice in the Church.”

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