Pope Francis Urges Bold Action To Protect The Amazon Wildfire

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Pope Francis urged bishops on Sunday to boldly shake up the status quo as they chart ways to better care for the Amazon and its indigenous people amid fire.

Written By Digital Desk | Mumbai | Updated On:

Pope Francis urged bishops on Sunday to boldly shake up the status quo as they chart ways to better care for the Amazon and its indigenous people amid threats from forest fires, development and what he called ideological “ashes of fear.”

Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. Pope Francis celebrated an opening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday with global attention newly focused on the forest fires that are devouring the Amazon, which scientists say is a crucial bulwark against global warming.

On hand for the service were indigenous people from several tribes, some with their faces painted and wearing feathered headdresses, as well as more than 180 South American cardinals, bishops, and priests, who donned green vestments like the pope. They traveled to Rome from the region for a special synod, or meeting, that has become one of the most controversial of Francis’ papacy.

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Among the most contentious proposals on the agenda is whether married elders could be ordained priests to address the chronic priest shortages in the region. Currently, indigenous Catholics in remote parts of the Amazon can go months without seeing a priest or having a proper Mass.

Pope Francis’ conservative critics, including a handful of cardinals, have called the proposals “heretical” and an invitation to a “pagan” religion that idolizes nature rather than God. They have mounted an opposition campaign, issuing petitions and holding conferences to raise their voices.

Yet in his homily, Francis urged the Amazonian bishops to go boldly forward, urging they be “prudent” but not “timid” as they discern new ways to protect the environment and minister to the faithful. He drew a distinction between the “fire” of missionary zeal and fires that aim to carve out the rainforest for agricultural uses.

“The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel,” he said. “The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity. It is fed by sharing, not by profits.”

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He prayed that God’s “daring prudence” would inspire the bishops to bold action to protect the region. “If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo,” he said.

In many ways, Pope Francis opened the synod last year, when he traveled into the Peruvian Amazon and demanded that corporations stop their relentless extraction of timber, gas, and gold. Meeting with native families in steamy Puerto Maldonado, Francis declared that the Amazon and its indigenous people are the “heart of the church” and demanded that governments recognize their rights to determine the region’s future.

Jair Bolsonaro wants economic development

State workers at some of Brazil's environmental agencies say they are feeling increasing pressure from illegal loggers and miners, galvanized by Bolsonaro's pro-development agenda. Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he wants to promote economic development in the Amazon and regularize small-scale illegal mining, known as garimpo. He was criticized at times the work carried out by state environmental agencies. Bolsonaro mentioned that if he could find a legal frame for it, he possibly could send troops to the state of Para to help wildcat miners carry out their activities. The Brazilian President criticized again foreign countries meddling with what he sees as a Brazilian domestic matter.

"I have to comply with the law. The interest in the Amazon is not about the indigenous or the tree, it's about the minerals!," Bolsonaro told a small crowd of illegal miners gathered outside the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, where he met on Tuesday with garimpos representatives and his mining and energy minister.

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