(Vatican Radio) “The Church in Latin America is very, very concerned with the destruction of the Amazon”, says Columban Fr Peter Hughes.
Fr. Hughs is is the executive secretary of the Department of Justice and Solidarity of the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) which is based in Bogotá, Colombia and has worked in Peru since 1966.
“We have a long presence working with in different parts of the Amazon”, notes Fr. Hughes. “But because of the modern developments and particularly the huge amount of concessions that the nations states are giving to the major mining corporations in the world, we are direct witnesses because of our work with the Amazon peoples, of the levels of destruction and depredation”.
The effects he describes are devastating:
“[We see] what is happening to the rivers, to animal life to bird life and particularly to the people, who are the age-old first inhabitants of the region. Their lives are being destroyed, their lands are being taken their cultures are being trodden down. They are filled with the evil effects of disorganized mining operations. The levels of sickness, particularly the cancer levels, that are due to the amount of led mercury arsenic that goes into the blood of the peoples with subsequent cancer levels is absolutely shocking”.
This is why, according to the Irish Columban missionary, the newly established Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network aims to promote the economic development of the region while managing Amazonian natural resources in a way that’s respectful of human dignity and targets the common good.
This echoes the words of Pope Francis to the indigenous peoples he met in Rio de Janeiro during his 2013 pastoral visit to Brazil, for World Youth Day celebrations. The Holy Father said: “The Church is not in the Amazon like someone with their bags packed ready to leave after exploiting it. She has been there since the beginning with missionaries, religious congregations, priests, laity and bishops, and her presence is decisive for the region”.
Taking up this challenge the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, or REPAM, has taken up the mission statement “To create in the Americas an awareness of the importance of Amazonia for all humanity. To create in all local churches of the Amazon basin an integrated pastoral approach with specific priorities in order to promote a model of development that privileges the poor and serves the common good” (Aparecida Document 475).