A historic Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place in Rome in October. It showed Pope Francis’s special concern for the peoples of the Amazon, whose lives and environment are under grave threat.
A Synod is a gathering of bishops to discuss specific concerns to help guide the Church. Here the bishops, together with indigenous witnesses and other experts, were tasked with finding new pathways for the Church to accompany the people of the Amazon.
“It gives us hope that we are not alone,” said indigenous spokesperson Yesica Tayori, who was in Rome with help from CAFOD.
“With the Church working alongside us, we will build actions to defend our common home.”
Three weeks of discussions produced key proposals now being deliberated by Pope Francis. The next stage of the Synod has begun, as its outcomes are taken back to communities in the nine Amazon countries, and spread throughout the Church.
“We are on the way,” as Pope Francis said in the closing Mass. “We are on the good path.”
Why does the Synod matter to all of us?
"When the world saw the Amazon burning, people realised we have to change."
These were the powerful words of Cardinal Michael Czerny, special secretary to the Synod, as the assembly closed.
In Laudato Si’ (#38), Pope Francis stressed the importance of the Amazon and Congo basins “for the future of humanity”. Everyone, he says, must share responsibility for these natural resources.
As CAFOD’s work testifies, listening to the poorest people and caring for the earth is a spiritual and moral imperative. The assembly has brought people from the margins and put them at the heart of the global Church. We must learn from the wisdom of these traditional peoples, says Pope Francis, in our search for an alternative model of development.
“The Synod is an unprecedented experience of walking together and has transformed the Church,” say our local experts, REPAM, a pan-Amazon Church network. “It is up to all of us together to carry on. The best wine is yet to come.”
It means making changes – to ourselves, to our communities, to our Church.
What happened at the Amazon Synod?
For CAFOD, the principal outcome is that the people of the Amazon have been heard, as indigenous women and men debated daily with bishops and cardinals in the Vatican. It was a moment of great joy and hope.
“We have had the grace of listening to the voices of the poor and reflecting on the precariousness of their lives,” as Pope Francis said.
It was not only those present who were heard, but the voices of 87,000 people who were consulted beforehand in an unprecedented project supported by our Church network. All bore powerful witness to the crisis they are facing.
“Can we eat oil?” Yesica Tayori of the Harakbut people in Peru demanded, denouncing extractive businesses. “This model of development that destroys the life of indigenous people and the planet – this has to change.”
Many urgent issues that were discussed are key to our work in the Amazon:
Violation of human rights and dignity
Land grabs and deforestation by extractive industries and agribusiness
Climate change and ecological damage
Migration, urbanisation and loss of culture
Violence and exploitation towards young people
The atmosphere was inspiring, says Mauricio López of REPAM who attended as a special advisor: “There was an experience of profound freedom, transparency, trust and fraternity.”
CAFOD and the final document of the Synod
The Synod bishops voted in approval of all the proposals put forward. These were presented to Pope Francis in a final document. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis reflected on this final document and urged everyone to read it in full.
The proposals are many and far-reaching. But for CAFOD, there are some in particular that give new determination to our work. Above all, the commitment that it is the Church’s duty to stand by the people of the Amazon region, in all the complex threats they face.
Special consideration is given to young people, a core concern of our work. “They have the same dreams and desires as other young people in this world,” says the final document, pledging that the Church will help them face a crisis of “anti-values” that is causing loss of self-esteem and identity.
The role of women is also promoted. Many Amazon communities we support are led by women and the Synod commits to the defence of women’s rights, as community leaders and “guardians of our common home”.
Perhaps the single overarching message of the Synod is that we are all called to “a true and ecological conversion, to a simple and modest style of life” (final document #17).
“The voices of the Amazon have told us that a radical change is needed in our habits of producing and consuming,” says our Head of Theology Linda Jones. “We are all interconnected with their struggle for survival via the global economy. Whether it is our eating habits or our investment choices, each of us is asked to re-examine our lives.”
In a gesture of prophetic witness, Synod members re-committed to the ‘Pact of the Catacombs,’ originally signed in 1965, to pledge a life of simplicity, sustainability and solidarity with the poorest people.
“The Synod brings hope to the communities we work alongside,” says Linda. “We are all called to learn from their wisdom, in order to protect our earth and the future of humanity.”
This poetic letter to all people of good will shared Pope Francis' dreams for the Amazon region: that the voice of the poorest and most vulnerable people will be heard; that the cultural riches of the region will be preserved; that the beauty and abundance of life in the region will be protected and that Christian communities will be strengthened giving the Church a new face with Amazonian features.
As Clare Dixon, our Head of Latin America said, "The Pope is pointing to the Amazon as a microcosm of the crisis we are facing - with the fires, pollution and displacement we've seen in the region showing the deadly interaction of poverty and the destruction of nature.
"But Francis is also imploring us to listen to the wisdom of the people of the Amazon, insisting that we learn from the way they live with the environment rather than in competition with it."
We do our best to listen to this wisdom and make a change so that all people may flourish.