The Special Secretary of the Synod for the Amazon presents the exhortation that the Pope completed last December, which is being published today. It contains four great "dreams" of Francis for the region, including that of a missionary Church with an Amazonian face.
"The destiny of the Amazon affects us all, because everything is connected and the salvation of this region and its original peoples is fundamental for the whole world.”
Cardinal Michael Czerny, special secretary of the Synod for the Amazon, in this interview with Vatican Media, presents the main content of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation:
Q: First of all Your Eminence, a word on the timing of the publication of this text by the Pope, who had said it would be ready by the end of the year. Were there any delays regarding the date he mentioned?
In his speech at the conclusion of the Synod, the Holy Father said: "A word from the Pope on what he experienced during the Synod can do some good. I would like to say it before the end of the year, so that not too much time goes by". In fact, that’s what happened. As promised, Pope Francis delivered the final text of his Post-Synodal Exhortation on 27 December, so before the end of 2019. After that there were the usual essential steps that take time: the document was reviewed, formatted and translated into different languages, and now it is finally published.
Q: What is the heart of the message of the exhortation, in your opinion?
The title of the Exhortation is Querida Amazonía, “Beloved Amazonia”, and its heart is the Pope's love for the Amazon and the consequences of that love: a reversal of the common way of thinking about the relationship between wealth and poverty, between development and custody, between defending cultural roots and openness to the other. The Pope describes for us the "resonances" that the synodal process provoked in him.
He does so in the form of four "great dreams". Pope Francis dreams that in the Amazon region there might be a commitment on the part of everyone to defend the rights of the poorest, of the original peoples, of the least. He dreams of an Amazon that preserves its cultural wealth. His ecological dream is of an Amazon that takes care of its abundance of life. Finally, he dreams of Christian communities capable of incarnating themselves in the Amazon and of building a Church with an Amazonian face. Personally, I was struck by the abundance of poetic quotations and of references to previous papal texts.
Q: Isn't there a risk that the "dream" might appear to be an unrealistic perspective projected onto an indefinite future?
Not for Pope Francis. I would like to recall the words he spoke in dialogue with young people at the Circus Maximus on August 11, 2018: "Dreams are important. They keep our view broad; they help us to embrace the horizon, to cultivate hope in every daily action. ... Dreams awaken you; they sweep you away; they are the most luminous stars, those that indicate a different path for humanity.... The Bible tells us that great dreams are those capable of being fruitful".
So, to answer your question, I think that this way of looking at it and this perspective are completely unlike an unrealistic or utopian perspective. The dream here is the indication of a path that eventually the whole Church has to take. Its beauty lies precisely in seeing a horizon, not in dictating a series of precepts. No declaration of love takes the form of a contract or a cookbook.
In the first chapter, the one dedicated to the social dream, considering the environmental devastation of the Amazon and the threats to the human dignity of its peoples, which Pope Benedict XVI had already denounced, Pope Francis invites us to be indignant. He says, "We need to feel outrage", because "it is not good for us to become inured to evil". He invites us to build networks of solidarity and development that surpass the various colonial mentalities.
He invites us to seek alternatives in several areas such as sustainable breeding and agriculture, forms of energy that do not pollute, and entrepreneurial initiatives that do not involve the destruction of the environment and cultures. In short, these "great dreams" are not meant to anesthetize us but are rather to be nourished by concrete and daily action.
Q: Concretely speaking, what does "promoting" the Amazon mean, as we read in the text of the Exhortation?
As the Pope explains, promoting the Amazon means making sure that from it flows the very best. It means not to colonize it, not to plunder it with massive mining projects that destroy the environment and threaten the indigenous peoples. At the same time, however, it also means to avoid mythologizing the native cultures, excluding any intermingling, or falling into an environmentalism "that is concerned for the biome but ignores the Amazonian peoples". Identity and dialogue are two key words, and Pope Francis explains that they are not at all opposed. Caring about the cultural values of the indigenous peoples concerns us all: we must feel co-responsible for the diversity of their cultures.
From the pages of the Exhortation, the Christian commitment also clearly emerges, which is far from either a closed nativism or an environmentalism that despises human beings as the ruin of the planet. In addition, it proposes a bold missionary spirit – to speak of Jesus and to bring his offer of new life to others – life to the full each one and for everyone, taking care of creation, in relationship with God the Creator and with all our brothers and sisters.
Q: Why should the destiny of a particular region on earth touch us so deeply?
The fate of the Amazon affects us all, because everything is interconnected and the care of this precious "biome", which acts as a filter and helps us to avoid raising the earth’s temperature, is fundamental to the health of the global climate. The Amazon, therefore, concerns us all directly. In that region of the world, we see the importance of an integral ecology which combines respect for nature with care for human dignity.
The Amazon’s future and the future of its peoples are decisive for maintaining the balance of our planet. In this perspective, it is important to allow indigenous peoples to remain on their territories and to take care of their lands. The educational aspect is also of primary importance: to promote new behaviours and new attitudes in people. Many people living in that area have assumed the typical customs of the big cities where consumerism and a throw-away culture reign.
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