ROME — Even before the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon begins, a new church initiative in the region set sail: the Pope Francis Hospital Ship.

The Catholic Church is called to preach the Gospel and heal the sick wherever they are, including in remote villages and settlements along the Amazon River, Pope Francis said in a message read Aug. 17 during an inauguration ceremony in the port of Belem, Brazil.

The ship is a joint initiative of Diocese of Obidos and the Fraternity of St. Francis of the Providence of God, which runs hospitals, including one visited by Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

Father Francisco Belotti, superior general of the fraternity, explained that Pope Francis asked six years ago if the priests and brothers worked in the Amazon, and when the answer was no, he encouraged them to carry out a project in the region. They presented the plan for the hospital ship in November 2018.

The ship will serve people along a 620-mile stretch of the Amazon River and will be staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, including members of Franciscan men’s and women’s orders.

In his message, the pope expressed gratitude that the ship would “carry the word of God and offer access to better health to the neediest populations” along the river.

“In addition to being a beautiful concrete gesture in view of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, which will take place in October here in Rome, this hospital ship is most of all a response to the call of the Lord, who continues to send his disciples to announce the kingdom of God and heal the sick,” the pope wrote.

The primary mission of the ship is to promote the abundance of life Jesus promised, he said, and the people of the Amazon define that kind of life as “living in harmony” with oneself, with nature, with others and with God.

“Like Jesus who appeared walking on the waters, calmed the storm and strengthened the faith of the disciples,” the pope said, “this ship will bring spiritual comfort and serenity to needy men and women who have been abandoned to their fates.”

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