Amazonian Network Dear to Pope Francis Now Has a Sister Organization in the Congo Rainforest

October 20, 2015

One of the most hopeful, positive, and integral developments in the Catholic Church in the past year or two is the Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), which is providing a platform for coordination and strength among Amazonian communities that have been suffering with extractive industries, cattle ranching, and logging interests pushing them off their lands and livelihoods.  Furthermore, the Amazon generates 1 in 5 glasses of the world’s freshwater and that water cycle is said to depend on the intactness of 80% of the forest, to survive.  When a red folder explaining the purpose, goals, commitments, and methods of REPAM was handed to Pope Francis, he is said to have clutched it and held it to his heart for a long moment, in an expression of his happiness and love for this follow up of principles and hopes enunciated in the Aparecida document of the Latin American bishops’ conference, CELAM.

The life and death nature of the conflict in the Amazon was made plain for many Catholics in the US with the martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang, who along with other sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and other orders of priests, nuns, and lay missioners have accompanied the most vulnerable in the region.  While Sister Dorothy’s case was tried, hers was only one of 8 in 600 assassinations of those living in the Brazilian state where the attack occurred, standing in the way of moneyed interests.  The brazen pressure exerted by those moneyed interests in Sister Dorothy’s trial, captured on film in the documentary They Killed Sister Dorothy, is stunning to northern viewers, though we benefit from the products sold by these wealthy ranchers, loggers, and developers.

In keeping with its integral approach to economic, social, and environmental issues, REPAM’s website is developing regular sections on and for indigenous peoples, human rights, and Laudato Si’.  A blog is already active at the site, and this website will attempt to cover news from it;  GCCM’s steering group overlaps with REPAM support and leadership and both organizations share a commitment to the vision and values expressed in Laudato Si’, including the urgency of the call to action and the protection of life, of the earth that sustains us, her peoples, and all her species.

Now there is further good news, relating to another lung of the Earth, that of the Congo rainforest, with a report out of a Workshop on Creation of an Ecclesial Network for the Safeguarding of the Congo Basin:

Congo rainforest

At the initiative of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission and Caritas Africa, both structures belonging to the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), and of the Jesuit Social Apostolate in Africa, a consultative workshop on the creation of an ecclesial network for the protection of the Congo Basin was held from 8 to 9 October 2015, at Caritas Congo in Kinshasa, DR Congo.

Delegates attended from the Justice and Peace Commissions of Congo – Brazzaville, Cameroon and DR Congo, the national Caritas offices of the three countries, the DRC Episcopal Commission for Natural Resources (CERN / CENCO), the Centre for Study for Social Action (CEPAS-RD Congo) and the Higher Institute of Agro-Vet, Kimwenza / Kinshasa (ISAV).  The workshop participants reflected, in light of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’, on the contribution of the Catholic Church in Africa, in view of safeguarding the Congo Basin forest.

0722-africa-rainforest-mapAt the opening of the workshop, Bishop Donatien Bafuidinsoni, speaking on behalf of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), built on paragraph 38 of Laudato Si, which deals with the importance of the preservation of the Congo Basin and the Amazon.  He deplored the fact that the debate over climate change has been confiscated by experts for so long and has been approached in a way that may be scientific but has too frequently been seriously lacking in conscience and responsibility.

Bishop Bafuidinsoni recommended that participants develop a common vision and practical ways to articulate future actions, in order to increase knowledge, to commit themselves to combat climate change, to protect biodiversity, to promote a model of sustainable development, and to enter into dialogue with other international networks.

The workshop also allowed participants to deepen their understanding of issues of climate change and of the challenges of sustainable management of the Congo Basin Forest, to maintain biodiversity and ensure the development of local communities. They also discovered how Congo Basin countries wanted to mobilize financial resources at COP 21, in order to contribute to the preservation of the forest.

The participants deplored the damage that polluting countries had caused with their industrialization, deforestation and consumerist development models; they noted that actions to restore the environment occurred much more slowly ad tenuously than actions that are destroying and damaging it.

All speakers came to the same conclusion that planet earth is at great risk if nothing is done now.

Faced with this danger to the world, Pope Francis encourages civil society to use “legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.”(Laudato Si, 38).

The new network benefited from the experience of REPAM (PanAmazonian Ecclesial Network), through its Executive Secretary who recalled the context of the creation of this network, the commitment of the Church in Latin America alongside communities, to safeguard biodiversity, its attention for the defense of the interests of indigenous peoples, the struggle for a change in the understanding of development which should be protective of biodiversity, its advocacy efforts which started from indigenous nations and the local level and went on to the international level by building on national and regional networks.

The participants agreed that, informed by these facts, and in order to assume responsibility and fulfil the prophetic role of the Church in searching for solutions in Africa, all assembled would commit themselves : a) To act within the Church in a concerted and coordinated manner to protect the forest in the Congo Basin by the creation of the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin (REBAC); b) Disseminate Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato si” to safeguard our common home in our different church structures (regional, diocesan, parish, grassroots communities), in our different countries; c) Work with communities, peoples, and civil society organizations, governments at all levels starting with the grassroots, parliamentarians, and partners, in support of actions for the protection of the planet; and to d) Establish and make operational the interim committee of REBAC.

Those present identified an Interim Committee of REBAC composed of representatives of the Justice, Peace and Development commission and Caritas Africa of SECAM , the Social Apostolate of Jesuits in Africa and one representative from each country represented at the Kinshasa workshop, the mission of which is to transmit to SECAM and other stakeholders the message and the commitments made at the end of the workshop; ensure the organization of the next meeting with representation from all countries concerned by the Congo Basin (Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic); and to relay the resolutions of the workshop to partners and COP 21.  The group also intends to put in place and monitor mechanisms to ensure that the funds that will come from the COP 21 benefit local communities and to ensure that the proportion of funds allocated to local communities is fair and takes their concerns into account.  They also want to provide support to governments to accurately assess the cost of the contribution of countries to the fight against climate change, meet commitments made at COP 21 and to devote the bulk of the funds received to the reduction of poverty.  On the community level, the group has committed to learn to understand the issues related to climate change; get involved in safeguarding actions of the Congo Basin and adopt responsible behavior towards the environment.  The group also intends to reach out to economic operators (mining) to boost their commitment and contribution to the common effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to the preservation of the environment.