Caring for “Our common home”: Reflections from the Amazon

By Alfredo Ferro Medina SJ

Uitota Family in the Amazon

A Uitota family gathers yuca in the Amazon region near Leticia, Colombia
(Photo: Sergi Camara/Entreculturas)

The Amazon, part of our “Common Home,” is a territory that covers 7 million sq km and has 35 million inhabitants. Today, this region and the 350 Indigenous communities that live there are threatened more than ever.

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis refers to the world as our common home… one that is under threat from environmental degradation and human greed, where poor and marginalized people are most affected. The Pope critiques the traditional model of development based on voracious capitalism and market economies. It is a system that normalizes poverty, migration and exclusion, and which leads to loss of biodiversity, the destruction of forests, soil erosion and pollution.

This system of free market capitalism has become so accepted that it is difficult to imagine measuring development beyond parameters such as GDP, per capita consumption and population growth. It exerts undue influence on politics and the economy. Its focus on profit leads to negative consequences on vast sectors of the population.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, states that nature is not a commodity that can be bought or sold. He reminds us of the reality of climate change, as seen through droughts, floods and other natural disasters. Legal and illegal mining are impacting communities; and so is our culture of consumerism and waste.

The concept of Integral Ecology in the encyclical presents a paradigm shift where the ecological, social, environmental, cultural and political aspects come together as one. Everything   is   interconnected.   A true ecological approach is a social approach. It integrates social justice with environmental concerns, hearing both the cries of the earth and the poor.

Pope Francis invites us to recognize our sins against creation as a crime against ourselves, our neighbours and  a  sin  against  God.  The loss of biodiversity, deforestation, the destruction of habitats and pollution, amount to what the Amazonian Synod, held in October 2019, called ecological sin. Pope Francis also quotes Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, “‘inasmuch as we all generate small ecological  damage,’  we  are  called to acknowledge ‘our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.’”

This is most evident in the Amazon, where the value of vast forests, a diverse ecosystem and an immense river basin, is matched by a rich cultural heritage and a great wealth of knowledge among its inhabitants. It is a “home” characterized by diversity and by the coexistence of two models of society: the Eurocentric model and one rooted in the Amazon, based on life in the forest and the harmony of water, land, sun and life.

Caring for our common home becomes more concrete when seen through the eyes of Indigenous people who have committed their lives to the protection of their territory. Since coming to the Amazon, I have been blessed with a  wonderful  friendship  with a Uitota woman, Anitalia Pijachi, and her family. They live just 6 kilometres from the Jesuit community in Leticia, Colombia, and we work together in the global and national actions of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM).

Anitalia Pijachi

Anitalia walks in the forest in the Amazon region
near Leticia, Colombia
(Photo: Sergi Camara/Entreculturas)

Anitalia is committed to the Church and in the defense and struggle of the Amazon. She is a witness to the life and hope of her people. She was invited to the recent Synod on the Amazon by Pope Francis whom she calls the “great white grandfather.” Anitalia made a valuable contribution to the Synod and in the coordinating commission of REPAM. She speaks “without hair in the tongue” as we commonly say, when truth is spoken out of wisdom from the elders. Anitalia, like many women,  exercises  great  leadership in her community. She is willing to take risks to defend and fight for her people and for our common home.

The only way out of our current predicament is developing a culture of caring. This involves walking down new paths where conversion is essential,  a  “sine  qua  non”:  without it, there is no future. Integral Ecology is a call to care for the earth, our common home, and for all life and habitats. It means caring for poor and marginalized people, Indigenous communities, our cultural heritage and future generations. The integral conversion to which the Synod invites us calls for a spirituality in tune with the earth, a change of mind and heart and a transformation of our lifestyle. It means becoming aware that everything is connected. It is a call to dialogue and to a new global solidarity as a spiritual path.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis affecting every part of the world. The cries of the earth and of the poor call us to a profound conversion, to a different and new relationship with the earth and with ourselves. The virus has shown the deep cracks in our society and that we must all take responsibility to enact change. It  has  exposed  the  dire  situation of the most vulnerable people and communities. Pope Francis, in the Apostolic Exhortation: “Querida Amazonia,” has called this an injustice and a crime. We now find ourselves in a very changed landscape which presents both an opportunity and a risk. Whatever else is at stake, each and every one of us has the ability to speak and act in solidarity for radical change in the defense and care for life.