The synod on the Amazon

October 29, 2019

Throughout this year, Catholic communities have eagerly anticipated The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region. During this meeting, bishops, men and women religious, and community representatives, including indigenous leaders across the Amazon came together for three weeks in Rome. Although the gathering in Rome has now ended, the work of the synod continues in communities around the world.

The synod explored how to better serve this region and its people while sharing the Good News of Jesus. At its conclusion, its voting members produced an outcomes document. You can read a summary of that document here. The voting members’ suggestions have been sent to Pope Francis for his review, and Pope Francis will issue a final statement within the next six months.

The outcomes document has expressed the long-standing values of our Church in new ways for this extraordinary time. Many critical issues were named under the common theme of conversion: integral, pastoral, cultural, ecological, and synodal.

  • Integral ecology, which sees the deep connections between how we relate to God, each other, and our common home, is the way forward.
    • Quotation from outcomes document: “Faced with the pressing situation of the planet and the Amazon, integral ecology is not one more way that the Church can choose for the future in this territory, it is the only possible way, since there is no other viable path to saving the region.”
  • The concept of “ecological sin” is explored. This sin, which is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 340-344, contravenes the Creator’s establishment of a world in which we must depend on each other and all creation.
    • Quotation from outcomes document: “We propose to define ecological sin . . . a sin against future generations that manifests itself in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of environmental harmony, transgressions against the values of interdependence and the rupture of the networks of solidarity between creatures (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 340-344) and against the virtue of justice.”
  • Divestment is proposed as a concrete way to recover from this sin. Beyond divestment, an overall move away from fossil fuels is encouraged as a way to live in harmony with creation. We’re called to move from the era of human-induced climate change, which deeply harms the Amazon and all creation, into an era in which creation flourishes in accordance with God’s will.
    • Quotations from outcomes document: “We assume and support the divestment campaigns of extractive companies related to the socio-ecological damage of the Amazon, starting with the ecclesial institutions themselves and in alliance with other churches.”
    • “We call for a radical energy transition and the search for alternatives [to fossil fuels]: ‘Civilization requires energy, but the use of energy should not destroy civilization!'”
    • “We need the urgent development of energy policies that achieve the drastic reduction of the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases related to climate change. New clean energies will help promote health.”
  • Along with a move away from fossil fuels, adopting simpler and more sustainable lifestyles can help us recover from this sin.
    • Quotation from outcomes document: “We should reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and the use of plastics, exchanging our eating habits (the excess consumption of meat and fish/seafood) for more sober lifestyles. Actively participate in the planting of trees, searching for sustainable alternatives in the areas of agriculture, energy, and mobility that respect the rights of nature and the community. Promote education in integral ecology at all levels, promote new economic models and incentives that promote a sustainable quality of life.”
  • The Church and its people have compassion for those who have been victimized by ecological sin. The suffering of indigenous peoples is clearly connected to the sin of a broken covenant between God’s people and God’s creation. Indigenous peoples have stewarded the Amazon for thousands of years and deserve our love and respect, as all people do.
    • Quotations from outcomes document: “The depredation of the territory is accompanied by the shedding of innocent blood and the criminalization of the defenders of the Amazon.”
    • “For Christians, the interest and concern for the promotion and respect of human rights, as much of individuals as of groups, is not optional.”
    • “We denounce the violation of human rights and extractive destruction.”

This is a kairos moment for the Church and the world. Together, we have prayerfully reflected on how our relationships with the Creator, people, and all creation are affected by our actions.

What can we do?

The synod on the Amazon took place over one-and-a-half years and culminated in Rome, and its message reverberates throughout the world. Here’s how you can take part.

  • Ask your institution to divest from fossil fuels, using the resources available at the Catholic divestment hub. Divesting from fossil fuels is a concrete way for your institution to respond to the environmental crisis with clarity and urgency.
  • Mark your calendar for the next global climate strike, scheduled for 29 November (add it to your calendar by clicking here). Climate change contributes to drought in the Amazon–and an intact Amazon is one of our best hopes to store carbon and fight climate change.
  • Adopt a more sustainable lifestyle by dialing back the thermostat, reducing automobile transport, avoiding plastic, eating more plant-based meals, and eliminating food waste.
  • Share this bulletin insert in your community.

Throughout the year, GCCM has supported the synodal process by organizing events in the Amazon Casa Común event series, preparing a small-group discussion guide, and offering a wealth of ways for grassroots leaders to participate.

How has the synod been received in the Amazon?

The Amazon stretches across nine countries and millions of people. An extractivist mindset, driven by our lifestyles, has resulted in drilling, mining, and agroindustrial operations that destroy the forest. The synod is a very powerful testimony to the hope our Church offers to this vulnerable region.

Because of the very hope the synod offers, the presidential administration of Brazil, which has overseen the near doubling of illegal deforestation and a sharp rise in attacks on indigenous communities, has opposed the synod. The government of President Jair Bolsonaro has even gone so far as to monitor the communications of Brazil’s bishops.

These actions run contrary to what the vast majority of Catholics want. A recent survey in Brazil itself revealed that 85% of Brazilian Catholics believe that attacking the Amazon is sinful. Across the Amazon, the synod is welcomed as a light that offers a way out of the darkness.

The words of Patricia Gualinga, the International Relations Director for Ecuador’s Kichwa First People of Sarayaku, express the hope and courage of many Amazonian indigenous communities. Ms. Gualinga says:

We have just concluded a synod that strengthens indigenous communities’ fight to protect and defend the Amazon. A spirituality that leads to intercultural exchange and to the understanding of much more than our own perspectives. A synod that has brought us emotion and uncertainty, but that has just concluded with more than 70% voting rate from the Amazonian bishops and from all those that have been present here, with the visibility that has been given with our presence as indigenous communities and indigenous women. It has been a unique experience.

The synod on the Amazon is a testimony to the vision offered by our faith. The Church is committed to listening deeply and to meeting all of creation in dialogue, establishing new paths toward justice, peace, and the healing of our common home.