The timing couldn’t have been better for me. Got up for morning prayer on the Feast of St. Francis, and instead found Pope Francis planting a tree, live on my computer. The event marks the close of the month-long Season of Creation. Also with remarkable timing, this ceremony dedicates the upcoming Amazon Synod to St. Francis. The tree Pope Francis symbolically planted – it’s a Holms Oak, supposed to be the species on which birds perched to listen to St. Francis preach.
“Renew us on the pathway of integral ecological conversion” one of the speakers prayed at the ceremony. Integral ecology is the theme of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, “Praised Be.” These words are from St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures.” The singing of this prayer accompanied the tree planting ceremony.
The Amazon region shows clearly what integral ecology is about. There the health of ecosystems and the wellbeing of people go hand in hand, as do the many threats to both. “Everything is connected,” as Laudato Si says repeatedly. In the case of the Amazon, the so-called “lungs of the planet, that connection extends to the whole world.
Also accompanying the pope and assisting in the ceremony were two Amazon indigenous persons. They brought soil from their native land, representing, Vatican News says, “the wealth of the bioregion’s cultures and traditions” and the spilled “blood of those who have died fighting against [Amazon’s] destruction.”
There was also soil from India and soil representing refugees and migrants. The former represented “countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis.” The latter was for people “forced to leave their homes because of war, poverty, and ecological devastation. More symbolic soil came from places of human trafficking and places where sustainable development projects have improved environments and human livelihoods.
Pope Francis closed the ceremony by simply reciting the Our Father in Spanish. He omitted his prepared remarks, which placed the Amazon Synod under the protection of St. Francis, patron saint of ecology. I guess the symbols of timing, tree, soils, song, and Amazon people made the connection between the synod and the Season of Creation clear enough.
The Season of Creation
For a season that isn’t quite exactly on the Church’s liturgical calendar, this year’s Season of Creation has been quite remarkable. Here are some of the bigger personalities and moments:
- Greta Thunberg, sailing across the Atlantic in a solar-powered yacht, talking to Congress and the U.N;
- More young climate activists – a panel of four interviewed by a U.S. House committee plus a U.N. sponsored Youth Climate Summit with invitees from across the globe.;
- Youth and adults around the world striking on two successive Fridays for climate action.
- Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling the nations of the world—those who have significant proposals—to a Climate Summit days after the Youth Summit;
- Pope Francis telling to the U.N. gathering that nations need to do more.
- And, of course, Pope Francis planting that tree, one of billions that nations committed to plant.
And it was remarkable for one non-moment – the failure of the U.S. government to make any significant contribution.
The Amazon Synod
Barely a heartbeat after the Season of Creation, the Church turns to the Amazon. There natural and human ecology is threatened. Putting the two ecologies together is the task of integral ecology. The title of the synod’s Preparatory Document is “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” The synod will deal with the worldwide ecological importance of “Amazonia,” but first in the Preparatory Document comes a concern for its peoples. Here and in coming posts I gather thoughts from that document.
From the Preamble:
- A “culture of waste” and an “extractivist mentality” have triggered “a deep crisis.”
- The Amazon region is a “mirror of all humanity,” “multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious.”
- The document promises to listen to indigenous peoples, “the first interlocutors of this Synod.”
From Part I. Seeing: Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia
- The Amazon River is “the mother and father river of all.”
- The excessive growth of agricultural, extractive, and logging activities in the Amazonia has not only damaged the ecological richness of the region, its rainforest, and its waters, but has also impoverished its social and cultural wealth.
- Amazonia hosts “about three million indigenous people, representing about 390 different peoples and nationalities … each with its own particular way of seeing the world and its surroundings and of relating to it out of their specific worldview and territoriality.”
- Amazonian people’s “relationship of belonging and participation” with the natural world contrasts with “a mercantilist vision.”
- Catholic people’s history in Amazonia includes cooperation with the colonial occupation by Spain and Portugal. Voices “raised in defense of indigenous peoples’ were few and far between.” The importation of “an enormous number” of Africans as slaves was an “unrecognized holocaust.” The Church begs forgiveness for this “scandalous stain.”
- That sordid history continues with “ferocious neocolonialism, carried out under the auspices of progress. It is likely that … the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin have never been as threatened as they are at present.” Those with power do not recognize indigenous rights, especially “their ancestral and collective [land] ownership.”
- If they had paid attention, those early and late “conquistadors” would have found “multiple bridges and points-of-contact” between Christianity and native religions. They would have found “openness to God’s activity … gratitude for the fruits of the earth … solidarity and co-responsibility … worship” and more.
Spirituality and wisdom
This first section concludes with a positive assessment of indigenous spirituality. The majority – but, the statement notes, not all – “promote the good life as a project of harmony between God, peoples, and nature.” More comprehensively, this good life
Comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, with the creatures ofo their environment, and with the Creator. Indigenous peoples, in fact, live within the home that God created and gave them as a gift: the Earth. Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders … promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.
This preparatory statement is meant to guide discussion during the synod. It will undergo discussion and alteration as 185 voting members, mostly from Amazon countries, meet in Rome in the coming weeks.
Imagae credit: Bulgarian News Agency via Google Images