February 21, 2020


‘Querida Amazonia’ surprises, critiques and inspires

“Our dream is that of an Amazon region that can integrate and promote all its inhabitants, enabling them to enjoy ‘good living.’ But this calls for a prophetic plea and an arduous effort on behalf of the poor. … We do not need an environmentalism that is concerned for the biome but ignores the Amazonian peoples” (Pope Francis, “Querida Amazonia,” #8).

Pope Francis is a man of surprises. Just when you’re willing to bet the store that he will say or do what you’re expecting, he does something different.

In the case of his postsynodal apostolic exhortation “Querida Amazonia” (“Beloved Amazonia”), the Holy Father side-stepped months of speculation in order to call attention to two of his signature themes: 1) care for the poor and vulnerable, especially those on the margins of society; and 2) care for all God’s creation, especially our common home.

Pope Francis does not like to be pressured into addressing the hot-button issues on which the news and entertainment media like to dwell. He also resists playing the games with which so-called “experts” in the Church seem obsessed.

In “Querida Amazonia,” he deliberately does not repeat all of the issues that were discussed during the synod held in Rome last October. He strongly urges us to read the synod’s final document, “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Economy.” There is plenty of controversial information here, and the pope has no desire to stir it all up again.

Instead, the Holy Father offers what he calls a “synthesis of some of the larger concerns” that he hopes will “guide us to a harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the entire synodal process.”

What are these larger concerns? Pope Francis identifies four key areas that constitute his “dreams for the Amazon region, a multinational and interconnected whole, a great biome shared by nine countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela and the territory of French Guiana.”

First among the pope’s four concerns is a vision for the future health and vitality of the Amazonian peoples and their beloved homelands. He dreams of “an Amazon region that fights for the rights of the poor, the original peoples and the least of our brothers and sisters, where their voices can be heard and their dignity advanced” (#7). Care for the people, and for their environment, is absolutely necessary if we want to prevent the callous destruction caused by indifference, corruption and grave injustice on the part of individuals and institutions in society and in the Church.

Secondly, Pope Francis dreams that “the distinctive cultural riches” of the Amazon can be preserved so that “the beauty of our humanity” can shine forth in many varied ways (#7). The pope reminds us that it is possible “to develop intercultural relations where diversity does not mean threat, and does not justify hierarchies of power of some over others, but dialogue between different cultural visions, of celebration, of interrelationship and of revival of hope” (#38)

Third, the Holy Father dreams of a land where people and nature—both gifts from God—can live together in harmony. Quoting his immediate predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis says that “alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a ‘human’ ecology which in turn demands a ‘social ecology.’ All this means that humanity … must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature,” and respect for human life (#41).

Finally, the pope dreams of a Church that can “journey alongside the people of the Amazon region” and can faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ (#61). “If we devote our lives to their service, to working for the justice and dignity that they deserve,” the Holy Father says, “we cannot conceal the fact that we do so because we see Christ in them and because we acknowledge the immense dignity that they have received from God, the Father who loves them with boundless love” (#63).

All of the hot-button issues discussed in the October synod are rooted in the pope’s dream of a Church that is incarnational—fully present to the peoples of Amazonia and informed by their wisdom, experience and cultures. Pope Francis dreams of accomplishing this “cultural retrieval through a precious synthesis with the preaching of the Gospel” (#72).

Not surprisingly, many news reports focus on what Pope Francis did not say or do. Both sides of the either/or political and ecclesial divides can find something to cause disappointment (even “outrage”) in “Querida Amazonia.” Thank God we have a pope who surprises, critiques and inspires us with his reflections on Gospel joy.

—Daniel Conway

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