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An Integral ecological conscience



Marists in Panamazonia and in the context of the Synod

06/10/2019: Brazil

The Marist presence in the Amazon is more than 100 years old. Since it was in 1903 that the missionary Brothers - coming from the Province of Aubenas, in France - settled in Belém do Pará, which created the Province of Brasil Norte, which today belongs to the Province of Brasil Centro-Norte. Following the missionary impetus promoted by the Second Vatican Council. Since 1967, several Marist Provinces of Brazil have opened missionary communities in various parts of the Brazilian Amazon, often composed of Brothers and lay men and women. Many of these communities will unite to create the Marist District of Amazonia (2002) which, in 2015, will become part of the Province of Brazil South-Amazon.

Marist Provinces in the Amazon

In the context of today, 4 Marist provinces form the territory of the International Amazon. The Province of Brasil Sul-Amazônia maintains communities in Cruzeiro do Sul - Gregório, Labrea, Manaus and Boa Vista. These communities alsowelcome missionaries from the Provinces of Brasil Centro-Sul and Brasil Centro-Norte. The Province of Brasil Sul-Amazônia is also home to the International Marist Community of the Lavalla200> project in Tabatinga.

The Province of Brasil Centro-Norte, in addition to supporting interprovincial projects in the region, promotes communities and/or schools in Belém, Balsas and Palmas.

The Province of Norandina serves the indigenous youth of Ecuador in the Intercultural and bilingual boarding school, Abya Yala, in Lago Agrio - Sucumbios. The Carmelite Marist Sisters of the Sacred Heart collaborate with the Marists. They are greatlyinvolved in the formation of 140 adolescents and young people from the nations of Cofãn, Kichwa, Siona, Secoya and Shuar. They are also present in Venezuela, where they have a school in the village of Sabra Catalina, most of whose students are Creole. It is located in the delta of the Orinoco River, a region that is also considered to belong to the Amazon biome.

The Province of Santa María de los Andes has a house of welcome and school accompaniment for indigenous adolescents from Peru who study in Puerto Maldonado. The Champagnat University of Lima is also developing a well organized project for the training of indigenous educators in the Peruvian Amazon.

The need for a new economic, social, educational and pastoral attitude

The concern for sustainability and the preservation of the planet is a reality that affects the whole of humanity. The Amazon region, which includes Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil, is crying out for a new economic, social, educational and pastoral attitude. The cry that comes from the Amazon refers not only to its self-preservation, but also to the conditions of life on Earth. If the Amazon ecosystems continue to deteriorate, the quality of human life on a global level will be compromised.

It is worth remembering that the Amazon has an area of more than 7 million kilometers and corresponds to 5% of the Earth's surface, 40% of South America and contains 20% of the world's reserve of unfrozen fresh water. It is home to 34% of the world's forest reserves and a gigantic mineral reserve. Its biological diversity of ecosystems, species and germplasm is the most intense and richest on the planet: about 30% of all species of fauna and flora in the world are found in this region. Likewise, its resource potential for medicine is immense.

The greatest richness of the Amazon, however, is its socio-diversity. It is estimated that about 34 million people live in its territory, both in the cities and in the forest. There are many children and young people. It is estimated that the indigenous population in 3 million people belonging to 390 known villages and almost 130 "Indigenous People living in voluntary isolation". Statistical data has indicated that there are approximately 240 spoken languages (49 linguistic families), numerous cultural expressions charged with spirituality, ways of relating to natural resources and cosmos-visions that integrate person-territory-ancestry-divinity: a future from the point of view of good living.

However, the Amazon suffers because of an economic model that encouragesprofit over people's lives and respect for nature. Large development projects do not benefit human life. Practically all of the governments of the Amazonian countries, aligned with international corporations, have policies that respond to the greed of neo-capitalism that depletes the ecology and endangers the planet. They submit very easily to the power of agribusinesses, logging companies and mining companies. The desire for the Amazon ecology is rampant and the result is the destruction of forests, water and air pollution, global warming and the murder of leaders fighting for the preservation of native cultures and forests.

An urgent call for the care of the Amazon and its inhabitants is therefore needed so that all of humanity can benefit.

The concern of the Church

On the American continent, the Bishops of Latin America, meeting in Aparecida in 2007, asked "to raise awareness in the Americas of the importance of the Amazon for all humanity" (Aparecida Document - Final text of the V General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, n. 475).

Pope Benedict XVI in his speech to the youth in São Paulo denounced the "environmental devastation of the Amazon and the threats to the human dignity of its peoples" (Message to the youth in the Pacaembu Stadium 2, May 10, 2007, cf. Aparecida Document 85).

This concern has been ratified by Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si', where he emphasizes the need to cherish the Amazon and the tropical forest of Congo (LS, 38). Pope Francis himself visited the Amazon and dialogued with the indigenous peoples in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, in January 2018. This approach to the Amazonian realities is part of the preparation of the special Synod of Bishops on Amazonia: New ways for the Church and for an integral ecology (Rome, October 2019). The fact that the Synod for Amazonia is taking place in the Vatican points to the importance of the theme for the whole Church and, why not say it, for all humanity that is called to take care of our "Common House".

Marists of Champagnat

The Marists of Champagnat are strongly committed to Amazonian causes. This commitment is manifested in their long missionary history in the region. In the present context, this mission is enriched, among others, by the determined Marist action in the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network - REPAM, since its foundation in 2015, and in the varied preparatory activity of the Synod for the Amazon. This preparation consisted of hundreds of meetings to listen to the peoples in their territorial contexts.

There are also Marist projects of insertion in the emerging Amazonian realities, such as the formation of Amazonian consciousness in the areaand the global context, the care of indigenous children and young people, riverside dwellers, migrants in urban contexts. It also highlights the international interest of the Marist Institute in inserting the Amazon into the plans of the intercultural communities - Lavalla200> - composed of Brothers and lay people from different regions of the Institute.

The invitation to take care of the Amazon biome extends to the care of the whole geographical space, since everything is connected. It asks to treat with respect the identities of each biome and all the life that moves in each one of them. This diversity and connectivity is what gives Planet Earth its beauty and makes it a great and welcoming home for all.

In this time so favourable to our ecological conversion, as Marists, we want to update the Marian intuition of Pope Paul VI when he sends a message to the bishops gathered in Santarém (Brazil) in 1972: "Paul VI gathered from the lips of Mary the happy precept of the wedding at Cana: "Do what he tells you" and asked "What is it that he tells us now? He points to the Amazon" (Disciples in the Mission in the Amazon, p. 46).

May Saint Marcellin Champagnat, in the dynamics of the Synod for the Amazon, help us to "Create an integral ecological conscience in all our communities and the different areas of the mission and develop policies at all levels of the Institute that strengthen our commitment to the care of our common home" (Message of the XII General Chapter). And to be more connected with the God of Creation and all his creatures.


Br. João Gutemberg

Province of Brasil Sul-Amazônia

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