The Papal Exhortation, Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazon), having been signed by Pope Francis on the 2nd of February 2020, contains his reflections after the Synod on the Amazon region which took place in Rome from the 6th-27th October 2019. In Querida Amazonia, the Pope invites the whole Church and indeed all people of goodwill to contemplate the splendour, drama and mystery of the Amazon region. While presenting his reflections, the Pope also encourages the reading of the Final Document of the Synod so that readers of Querida Amazonia may participate more fully in the processes of the Synod.
The Exhortation neatly divides into four chapters which are based on the four dreams (social, cultural, ecological and ecclesial dreams) which inspire the Pope on the Amazon region. Before delving on the dreams, the Holy Father indicates that everything that the Church has to offer must become incarnate in a distinctive way in each part of the world and in this case the Amazon region. Even though the Exhortation is basically directed to the Amazon region, I am convinced that it has a lot to teach us in the region of IMBISA. We too have the obligation to reflect on our social, cultural, ecological, and ecclesial realities.
The social dream
The social dream calls for an Amazon region which enables all inhabitants to enjoy good living. This requires serious work on behalf of the poor and questions of justice become important. At the same time it requires a fight against the colonising interests which tend to expel or marginalise the indigenous people, river people and those of African descent. Their cry, as the Holy Father indicates, rises up to heaven. This unfortunate state of affairs has even pushed these people to the outskirts of cities where they find no freedom from their troubles. Furthermore, it is in the cities where they experience the worst forms of enslavement, subjection and poverty, inequality, xenophobia, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
The Holy Father decries a situation whereby some people, especially those who are exploiting the Amazon region, pretend as if the region is an empty space to be filled without recognising the inhabitants of the place. This is especially true for business which tends to harm the Amazon and fails to respect the original peoples of the land. He calls this out as an injustice and a crime. All should feel a certain outrage in the face of such an injustice. Our social consciousness should never be dulled when exploitation jeopardises the lives of millions of people, especially peasants and indigenous peoples.
While reflecting on the injustices, the Holy Father is also alive to the possibility of overcoming the various colonising mentalities and to build networks of solidarity, development and globalisation without marginalisation. Indigenous people should be empowered as was done by some missionaries who brought the gospel to them. These missionaries never abandoned the indigenous people but lived alongside them. Indeed, the Church is called upon, even today, to listen to the plea of the Amazon. Yet, we should never forget that at times there were missionaries that tended to side with the oppressors and, as such, we should seek forgiveness for this shameful act.
The foregoing shameful acts of injustice by colonisers, business and some missionaries require the cultivation of a sense of community and human fellowship for the advancement of the people of the Amazon. This community spirit is, in a way, already present among the indigenous peoples as can be seen in their rites, their rest, their work, their relationships and their celebrations. Yet, on the other hand, the Holy Father is painfully aware of the moral scourge, which tends to breakdown this sense of community. Such a breakdown of a community can be observed in the destruction of state institutions, and this affects the Amazonian peoples who are unfortunately the poorest. He notes again that the Church has been complicit in certain acts of corruption that have harmed the peoples of the Amazon. Challenging members of the Church; therefore, he underlines the need to pay attention to the provenance of donations as well as to instruments made by ecclesiastical institutions of individual Christians. The Amazon should be a place of dialogue with the people of the Amazon being principal dialogue partners. Their words, their hopes, their fears should be the most authoritative voices at any table of dialogue on the Amazon region.
The cultural dream
After a reflection on the social dream, the Holy Father turns to the cultural dream noting the importance of promoting the Amazon region. This means avoiding colonising the region culturally as all should avoid seeing them as uncivilised savages. We should acknowledge that they are heirs to different cultures. Unfortunately, colonisation has led to their fragmentation which leads to a certain loss of identity and dignity. The Amazon is a multicultural universe where can be found in indigenous communities which include people of African descent, river people and city dwellers. Each group continues to develop its own wisdom and thus the need to avoid simplistic arguments and conclusions about Amazonian cultures.
Following from this reality, therefore, the Holy Father exhorts all to avoid the levelling of cultures which tends to diminish the immense variety, which is the heritage of all humanity. The Amazonians are exhorted to take charge of their roots because it is from such roots that comes their strength which in turn makes them grow and flourish. For the baptised though, it will be important to include their history as well as the history of the people of Israel and the Church up to our won day. The Holy Father makes it a point to underline the importance of the wisdom of old people in the Amazonian region with the encouragement that they be given the platform to tell stories to the young people of the Amazon and the attendant obligation of young people to listen to the elderly.
However, like all cultures, the cultures of the Amazon region have their limits. Therefore, it is important to have a certain cultural openness which includes dialogue with other cultures. This openness though should not diminish the good in their culture even in questions of how the quality of life may be understood. A proper quality of life must be understood from within and never be imposed from without.
An ecological dream
In the Amazon region, daily existence is always cosmic. There is a need to set free those living in the Amazon so that they enjoy this cosmic existence. Setting others free from bondage surely involves caring for the environment and defending it. The Lord wants us to care for our brothers and sisters and the environment which he daily gives us. This means that humanity must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology and human ecology. This insistence that everything is connected is particularly true of a territory like the Amazon region. For this reason, a call is being made to bring an end to the mistreatment and destruction of mother earth.
Reflecting on the Amazon also leads us to the importance of water which determines every form of life in that area, especially as seen in the River Amazon. It needs to be cared for so that it may continue providing for the whole of the Amazon region. At the same time, we recall the importance of good air as the Amazon provides an excellent filter for carbon dioxide. The Holy Father laments the fact that selfish interests are plundering this important ability of the Amazon. He exhorts all to promote the good functioning of eco-systems.
The Holy Father goes on to speak against the internationalizing of the Amazon region. Rather, he suggests a greater sense of responsibility on the part of national governments. At the same time he praises international agencies and civil society organisations which focus on the care for the Amazon especially in pressuring governments to act correctly. There is also a need for a legal framework to set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems.
Pope Francis is painfully aware of the plunder that has been going on in the Amazon region as he indicates that this region cries out to the Creator in a similar fashion with the cry of God’s people in Egypt. He, therefore, suggests ways of correcting the plunder of the Amazon region. In the first place he makes a call for the contemplation of the beauty of the Amazon and that it not be seen merely as an object to be analysed. All should be aware of the conscious bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. Secondly, the Holy Father recommends an ecological education which will bring about new habits in individuals and groups. This requires a different style of life which is less greedy and more serene, respectful and fraternal. As he concludes this section, the Holy Father affirms that the Church, with her broad spiritual experience, desires to contribute to the protection and growth of the Amazon region.
An ecclesial dream
In the fourth and last chapter, the Holy Father meditates on the ecclesial dream indicating that the Church is called to journey in faith alongside the people of the Amazon region. It is important that they be offered the gospel more than offering technical resources or even political programs. In fact, an authentic option for the poor, while calling us to liberate them from material poverty, also involves inviting them to a friendship with the Lord who elevates and dignifies them. The people of the Amazon have a right to the gospel, the kerygma, which is the proclamation of a God who infinitely loves every man and woman and has revealed this love fully in Jesus Christ crucified for us and risen in our lives. Otherwise, if the church does not embark on this proclamation, she simply becomes an NGO. The fundamental response to this message is, of course, fraternal charity. Therefore, kerygma and fraternal charity form the great synthesis of the whole content of the gospel.
Yet, all this proclamation should happen in the framework of an authentic inculturation which is essential for the Amazon region. The Church rejects nothing of the goodness that already exists in the Amazonian cultures. In fact, whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches its culture with the transforming power of the gospel.
Inculturation should happen at various levels, including the liturgy, ecclesial organisation and ministry. In fact, the history of the Church shows that Christianity does not have only one cultural expression. As far as the inculturation of the liturgy is concerned, it is important to take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the existence of indigenous peoples. When it comes to ministry, ministers must see to the frequent celebrations of the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. Moreover, ministers should be particularly sensitive to the Amazonian sensitivities and cultures and where possible should be from the Amazonian cultures themselves. At the same time, all should be aware that for the Amazon inculturation will have a social cast due to the situation of poverty and neglect of the region. Sacraments should thus be accessible, especially to the poor, and must never be refused for financial reasons. Inculturation should eventually lead to holiness with an Amazonian face.
Due to the scarcity of priests in the Amazon region, the Holy Father encourages the active presence of more permanent deacons, religious women and lay persons so as to accompany people in their faith journey. They have to assume important responsibilities for the growth of the communities and promoting the encounter with God’s word and growth in holiness. In their work, they should provide for biblical, doctrinal, spiritual and practical services and a variety of ongoing formation exercises. The need for mature lay leaders can never be overstated. Mature lay leaders, being familiar with the territory, may even have to be endowed with a certain authority. Furthermore, there is a need for itinerant missionaries who can help communities as well as the need to foster the establishment of base communities.
The exhortation applauds the presence of strong and generous women in the Amazon region, especially in the preservation and handing on of the faith. Some of them have acted as missionaries doing various activities including baptising, catechising and praying for people in various needs and circumstances. There is a temptation in some quarters to clericalise them by admitting them to Holy Orders. According to the Holy Father, this may not be the best way of recognising the gifts of women. We should encourage rather other forms of service and charisms that are proper for women. Such forms of service should enable them to have stable positions and responsibilities which entail public recognition and commission from the Bishop.
While the ecclesial dream is alive, we can never be blind to the fact that now and then conflicts flair up in the Church and thus the need to deal with those conflicts. There is a need of transcending the contraposition that limits our vision and recognising what God is offering. Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue remain important in promoting the common good and the promotion of the poor in the Amazon region. Our differences with other Christian communities, especially on Sacred Scripture, the Seven Sacraments and Mary the Mother of God, need not create enmity between us and other confessions. We need to be more attentive to what unites us, especially as we are united by faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, by the civilization of love, by the struggle for peace and justice and ultimately by the call to everlasting life.
In conclusion, the Holy Father extends an invitation to all to allow the Amazon to be transformed and set free from the evils that beset it. He announces that the indigenous peoples of the Amazon do have an encounter with Jesus Christ with the path of Mary having contributed significantly to this encounter. The Exhortation thus ends with a prayer to Mary, Mother of life and Mother of all creatures who is implored to look kindly upon the poor of the Amazon region.
Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
IMBISA Director of the Secretariat
05 March 2020
 The Amazon region includes the following nine countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana,Peru, Surinam, Venezuela and the territory of French Guiana.
 The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.