ROME – Peruvian Jesuit Cardinal Pedro Barreto has said that leading concerns for the Amazon region include not only issues like deforestation and illegal mining, but also the harassment and at times murder of environmental activists.

Speaking to Vatican News, the Vatican’s official state-run information platform, following a meeting with Pope Francis Monday, Barreto said the Church in the region is “very, very concerned about the situation, I would say, of abuse of environmental defenders, with some murders.”

Other major concerns, he said, are “the irrational exploitation of natural resources, deforestation, illegal mining, which means that the urgency is increasing due to the effects of climate change.”

President of the first-ever Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA), Barreto, 80, noted that the Amazon forest covers 2,702,715 square miles, and includes nine countries, 105 dioceses, and more than 130 bishops.

The Church’s primary mission in the Amazon, he said, is “caring for life,” with special attention for care of the natural environment and those who advocate for it and for the Amazonian communities.

“To proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ is also to proclaim the rights of people. And also, the quality of life that they should have with the air, water and soil,” he said, saying CEAMA, established in 2020, is “very attentive” to the challenges of the Amazon and is working to put various proposals into practice.

In the Amazon, environmental activists have routinely been targeted for their efforts to oppose extractive mining and deforestation, among other things.

Peru’s national human rights center reports that at least 30 environmental activists and community leaders have been killed since 2020. In December, Peruvian environmental activist Quinto Inuma, a leader of the Kichwa community, was shot and killed in a remote part of the northern region of San Martin after receiving death threats for opposition to illegal deforestation.

Barreto was among the representatives of CEAMA and the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) who met with Pope Francis at the Vatican Monday, June 3, offering the pontiff an update on their activities and progress on proposals that came out of the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.

On Tuesday, the acts of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region were expected to be released, and a seminar titled, “New paths for the Church and for an integral ecology” was held at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

A congress highlighting the activities of the Church in the Amazon is scheduled to take place at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Friday that is sponsored by both REPAM and CEAMA, offering a glimpse into their projects and activities, as well as goals for the future.

In his interview with Vatican News, Barreto said the pope in their meeting Monday “gave us a lot of encouragement to continue walking together in this synodal process.”

During the meeting, representatives gave the pope a letter calling him their “grandfather,” Barreto said, saying, “That is what they call him, the grandfather, and for the native peoples, the grandfather is the wise person, the person who guides, the person who has no other interest than to be able to serve and encourage life.”

Pope Francis, he said, also urged the Amazon Church to continue working together, “because the synodal experience in the Amazon is like a model experience of what life in the Universal Church can be like” in terms of collaboration and synodality.

In addition to meeting the pope, Barreto said CEAMA and REPAM representatives this week will also meet with officials from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization, the Dicastery of Bishops, the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, and the so-called Dicastery for Religious.

Looking to the future, Barreto stressed the need to give thanks for the missionaries who have been present in the Amazon since the 16th century, saying, “we have to recognize that we are heirs to the great pastoral richness that they have achieved.”

“We are living an ecclesial kairos, a propitious time for the renewal of the Church in the Amazon, and from the Amazon we are also offering the Universal Church a new path, as was requested for the Amazon Synod,” he said.

This path, Barreto said, must be done “together, all baptized men and women are part of the people of God who are on a pilgrimage through history with the consolations and caresses of God, but also with the anguish and tears of many brothers and sisters.”

“I hope that we will continue to walk together and that the Synod on Synodality will not only take up this synodal experience from the Amazon, but will also promote the participation of all baptized men and women in the mission of the Church, in families, in society, in politics, in the economy, and also, logically, within our Church,” he said.

Referring to the 2025 Jubilee of Hope set to begin this December, Barreto said there is great enthusiasm for actions being taken in the Amazon region, and this enthusiasm “is being transformed into hope” and is being translated into concrete, joint action.

“I am convinced that the year 2025 will be for all of us a wonderful experience of gathering this hope put into action,” he said, saying, “God walks with us, God is not mistaken in calling us, and therefore He calls us all to walk together.”

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