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Querida Amazonia and the environment

The recently published Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis, at surface value, focuses almost exclusively on the environment. Martin van Nierop highlights some of the passages that most clearly communicate the spirit of Querida Amazonia, but leaves us with the warning that any option for the environment is also an economic and social challenge. Ultimately, he reminds us that Pope Francis’ appeals cannot reside solely on paper, but must take shape in our hearts and lives.

Pope Francis has written the Apostolic Exhortation, Querida Amazonia, after the Synod on the Amazon in 2019. What has this document to say about the environment?

Given that Pope Francis has structured this document in the context of four dreams that inspire him when reflecting on the Amazon, and that one of these is “An Ecological Dream” [paragraphs 41-60], the document clearly has a fair amount to say about environmental issues.

While this Apostolic Exhortation is focused on the Amazon region, the message is applicable to everyone, everywhere, as Pope Francis reminds us: “Yet I am addressing the present Exhortation to the whole world [5].

Addressing issues holistically

The key message, as was the case in Laudato si’, is that environmental issues can only be addressed successfully when done so holistically. This means that social and cultural aspects have to be addressed simultaneously with the ecological issues.

It also has to be made clear that “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” [8].

It also means that not addressing social and cultural issues will result in environmental degradation.

In the Encyclical Laudato si’, I noted that “if everything is related, then the health of the society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life…” [23].

An ongoing global concern

However, while the health of the Amazonian ecology is important for the people in that region, especially the indigenous people, the Amazonian ecology is also of concern globally:

The equilibrium of our planet also depends on the health of the Amazon region. Together with the biome of the Congo and Borneo, it contains a dazzling diversity of woodlands on which rain cycles, climate balance, and a great variety of living beings also depend. It serves as a great filter of carbon dioxide, which helps avoid the warming of the earth [48].

Destruction of the Amazon rain forest is worsening the rate and impact of the climate change we are experiencing. Climate change is a global issue with local impacts. Africa is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We cannot be blind to the ecological damage being done to the tropical rain forests, both in the Amazon and on our own continent.

Pope Francis indicates that solutions lie, among others, in two constructs:

The interest of a few powerful industries should not be considered more important than the good of the Amazon region and of humanity as a whole [48].

And again:

The best ecology always has an educational dimension that can encourage the development of new habits in individuals and groups [58].

Pope Francis has again presented us with a challenge that inspires us to holistically care for our common home.

Are we listening?

However, it saddens me that five years after Laudato si’, we are still taking about the same ecological issues. Are we listening? On the face of it there has been no movement. People have even been lamenting the lack of movement on some of the other issues that the Synod spoke about, for example, the ordination of married men and women.

For me the most significant part of Querida Amazonia was in the introduction. The Pope said that the exportation is the vehicle to ” officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod” [3].

Does this mean the Pope means insert the whole of the Final Document from the Synod here? Do the suggestions for changes in the ordination of married men (see paragraph 111 of the Synod Final Document) and women in this document carry the same weight as if it had appeared in the Apostolic Exhortation? Let’s all heed the words of the Pope and do as he did:

During the Synod, I listened to the presentations and read with interest the reports of the discussion groups [2].

Now I will go away and listen and read as the Pope states:

I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full [3].

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Martin van Nierop
Martin van Nierop has a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is the Managing Director of Gondwana Environmental Solutions, an environmental consultancy based in Johannesburg. Martin has had more than 15 years of experience in the environmental field. Recently he has written environmental articles for the Jesuit Institute.

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