The messages from the three week Amazonian synod are stark.

The house is burning and there isn't much time to stop the destruction.

If the Amazon dies, we will die.

Dr. Carlos Alfonso Nobre, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been studying the Amazon for more than 40 years gave synod participants the shorthand.

  • The Amazon is the very ecological heart of the planet and we are very close to collapse.
  • If we lose 20 to 25% of the total forest, we will lose it all, forever. The great Amazon forest will become a savannah. Right now we have 15% deforestation and are at huge risk. We may not have more than 15 or 20 years to reverse the situation.
  • This is the picture science is showing us in a very clear cut manner.

Other experts added:

  • The Amazon is under threat from global warming and there is a causal relationship between global warming and weather changes such as the increased frequency of hurricanes.
  • Even if everyone in the Amazon changes, that will not be enough to stop the impending disaster. Many people in developed nations do not believe they are responsible for the rainforest's destruction. And if they realize it, they don't want to give up their luxurious lifestyles; their timber, their agricultural products, their gold, and their red meat. America, Japan, Europe, and China are most responsible for climate change and it is people in these countries that must change their lifestyles. The resistance to adopting a "more sober" lifestyle will result in greater destruction of the rainforest.
  • The current economy that prizes profit above all else kills. We need a new economy of solidarity.
  • We need to reduce our carbon footprint. All countries must abide by the Paris Climate agreement.
  • Plunderers of the land take the riches, but when those natural resources leave our countries, the people are not better off. They are impoverished.
  • There is an urgency. We don't have much time. If another 5% of the forest is destroyed, there will be no return.

Paragraph 10 of the final document from the Amazonian synod lays out what is at stake.

The Amazon today is a wounded and deformed beauty, a place of suffering and violence. Attacks on nature have consequences for the lives of peoples. This single socio­environmental crisis was reflected in the pre-synodal consultations that pointed to the following threats to life: appropriation and privatization of natural goods, such as water itself; predatory hunting and fishing; unsustainable mega-projects (hydroelectric and forest concessions, massive logging, monocultures, roads, waterways, railways, and mining and oil projects); pollution caused by the extractive industry and city garbage dumps; and, above all, climate change.

These are real threats with serious social consequences: environmental diseases, drug trafficking, illegal armed groups, alcoholism, violence against women, sexual exploitation, human trafficking and smuggling, organ traffic, sex tourism, the loss of original culture and identity (language, spiritual practices and customs), criminalization and assassination of leaders and defenders of the territory. Behind all this are dominant economic and political interests, with the complicity of some governors and some indigenous authorities. The victims are the most vulnerable: children, youth, women and our sister, mother earth.

In the face of those threats, Pope Francis' response is nothing less than pastoral and prophetic genius.

Having visited the Amazon, he saw the destruction of the land and its people firsthand. He understood that the indigenous people who have been the caretakers of the Amazon for eons, should be protected from the many murderous threats they face and their wisdom heeded.

It is scandalous that leaders and even whole communities are being criminalized merely for claiming their own rights. In all Amazon countries there are laws that recognize human rights, especially those of indigenous peoples (69). The Church commits itself to be an ally of the Amazonian peoples to denounce the attacks against the life of the indigenous communities, the projects that affect the environment, the lack of demarcation of their territories, as well as the economic model of predatory and occupied development. The presence of the Church among the indigenous and traditional communities needs the awareness that the defense of the land is also the defense of life (46).

Thus, Pope Francis gathered a core group of indigenous experts, women, scientists, and bishops from the Amazon to Rome to bring a high beam focus on what is the key pro-life issue today and to help transform the whole church through the shared stories of suffering, hopes, and dreams of the people most affected by the destruction. And out of that experience he built a theological framework for addressing the problems of the Amazon and the earth, something he began in Laudato Si and continued with the synod; something he termed integral ecology.

Listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and of the peoples of the Amazon with whom we walk, calls us to a true and integral conversion, to a simple and modest style of life, all nourished by a mystical spirituality in the style of St. Francis of Assisi, an example of integral conversion lived with Christian happiness and joy (cf. LS 20-12). A prayerful reading of God's Word will help us to deepen and discover the groans of the Spirit and encourage us in our commitment to care for the "common house" (17).

As a Church of missionary disciples, we implore the grace of that conversion which "implies letting flow all the consequences of the encounter with Jesus Christ in the relationships with the world that surrounds them" (LS 21); a personal and communal conversion which commits us to relate harmoniously with God's work of creation, which is our "common home"; a conversion which promotes new structures in harmony with the care of creation; a pastoral conversion based on synodality, which recognizes the interaction of all that is created. Such conversion will lead us to be an outgoing Church that will enter the heart of all the Amazonian peoples (18).

Thus, the only conversion to the living Gospel, which is Jesus Christ, can only unfold in interconnected dimensions to motivate our going out to the existential, social and geographical peripheries of the Amazon. These dimensions are pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal...(19).

So, what can we do? Paragraph 70 gives us a start that is rooted in the Gospel.

  • For Christians, the interest and concern for the promotion and respect of human rights, both individual and collective, is not optional. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God the Creator and their dignity is inviolable. That is why the defence and promotion of human rights is not merely a political duty or a social task, but also and above all a requirement of faith.
  • We may not be able to modify immediately the destructive model of extractivist development, but we do need to know and make clear where we stand, whose side we are on, what perspective we assume, how the political and ethical dimension of our word of faith and life are transmitted.
  • We denounce the violation of human rights and extractive destruction.
  • We make our own and support campaigns to disinvest in extractive companies responsible for the socio-ecological damage of the Amazon, starting with our own Church institutions themselves and also in alliance with other churches.
  • We call for a radical energy transition and the search for alternatives: "Civilization requires energy, but the use of energy must not destroy civilization!"(Pope Francis, Address to the participants in the conference "Energy Transition and Care of the Common Home", 9 June 2018).
  • We propose to design and develop training programs on the care of our "common home", for pastoral agents and other faithful, open to the whole community, in "an effort to make the population aware" (LS 214).

This past weekend, I attended the confirmation Mass for one of my granddaughters. There was absolutely nothing about Laudato Si in their preparation and catechesis. That is unacceptable given the threats we face, but this parish is not alone in its complete ignorance of one of the most important movements in the Church today.

Most of our bishops and priests are stuck in culture warrior mode, blind to the most death dealing forces we face.

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests recently wrote a letter to the leaders of the US Bishops' Conference. Below is the letter. You can modify and send it to your bishop, priest, or other Church leaders.

To: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez and U.S Catholic Bishops

From:  Association of U.S. Catholic Priests Climate Crisis Working Group

                 On behalf of the whole Association

Subject: Facing the Climate Crisis

Date: November 6, 2019

We are concerned for your legacy because the babies you baptize and the children of couples you marry are at grave risk from the effects of Climate Crisis and so little is being done to help them.

Seek out what your brother bishops who are on the boards of Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services are saying about the suffering and death of climate refugees who must move due to rising seas, draught, wild fires, floods, and conflicts over land.  You will discover the Climate Crisis is REAL.  It is SERIOUS.  It is US.  And there are things we can do about it, but we must act now.

Catholics presently do not hear about Laudato Si’ or the Climate Crisis or what they can do about it, from the pulpit.  You can help your priests wake the sleeping giant in your Eucharistic Assemblies to face the Climate Crisis by creating the political will to act.

You will be asked to vote on the Catholic Bishops’ Faithful Citizenship document at the upcoming November meeting in Baltimore.  Shouldn’t the draft document be congruent with Laudato Si?  This is a legitimate question for Senior Catholic Leadership from parishioners who are looking for guidance and support.  As such, a working knowledge and position of the USCCB on the following is necessary:

    (a) The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 H.R.763

    (b) International Climate Accountability Act S.1743

    (c) U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Your diocese’s position on each of these should be congruent with Laudato Si’ and statements from the USCCB.

You are not alone.  Help with briefings, resources and crafting instructions to your priests about a Catholic Response to the Climate Crisis is at hand.  Catholic Climate Covenant, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Catholic Action Team, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, the California Catholic Conference, and the Archdiocese of Atlanta are standing by.

The lives of so very many Catholic young people depend on you.

And the Archdiocese of Atlanta have developed a wonderful resource, an action plan, that you can use in your parish or community. To read and download it CLICK HERE.

Art by Yessica

In this midst of all this, there is Good News!

The potential for healing is greater than the power of destruction from mining, hydro electric dams, deforestation, and other practices.

Dr. Nobre ended saying the whole of the synod is bringing current science and solutions "so the Amazon can continue to be a forest."

The Vatican itself is working to offset the carbon footprint of this synod. The Secretary General of the Synod of bishops on the Amazon, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, announced that the Vatican will offset the Synod’s carbon emissions by planting up to 100 acres of trees in the Amazon.

We are the People of God, and we can heal each other and our planet!

Deborah Rose-Milavec