The fires in the Amazon are a "true apocalypse," according to a Brazilian archbishop who hopes that next month's papal synod at the Vatican will strongly denounce the destruction of the rainforest.
Erwin Kräutler says he hopes next month's papal synod will denounce the destruction of the rainforest.
Erwin Kräutler's comments will put new pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro following criticism from G7 leaders last month over increased deforestation in the world's largest terrestrial carbon sink.
The archbishop's words also highlight a growing division between the Catholic Church and the Pentecostal movement. Pope Francis has championed a more harmonious relationship with the natural world for the sake of future generations, in contrast to the rapidly growing New World Pentecostalists who form the base of support for accelerated resource exploitation advocated by Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. .
The bishops meeting would condemn all forms of destruction of the Amazon and advocate for a new vision of ecology based on Christian faith in God as the creator of a "common home," Kräutler said in an email exchange with The Guardian. . Although he retired as bishop of Xingu, he is one of 18 members of the preparatory council appointed by Francis before next month's papal synod in the Amazon.
After the meeting, Francis is expected to reinforce this message with an "apostolic exhortation." It is likely to be based on his influential 180-page encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si ', published four years ago, which called for concrete measures to address the environmental crisis.
Preparations for an Amazon synod have been underway since 2016, but the issue has become more urgent in recent months due to fires, threats and a hostile government, Kräutler said.
“There have always been fires in the Amazon. When they are smaller, nature is rebuilt in a few years. But what you are seeing now is a true apocalypse, "said the archbishop, who has spent 54 years in the region.
“This year's fires are beyond anything you can imagine. Without a doubt, it is the consequence of [Bolsonaro's] comments about the opening of the Amazon to national and multinational companies. He understands “opening the Amazon” as a license to clear a rain forest and gain space for cattle to graze and plant monocultures such as soybeans and sugar cane “.
Earlier this week, Catholic clergy in the Amazon issued an open letter condemning the violence and intimidation they say they are experiencing as a result of efforts to protect the forest, indigenous peoples and poor communities from miners and farmers.
"We are deeply disappointed that today, instead of being supported and encouraged, our leaders are criminalized as enemies of the homeland," they wrote.
"Together with Pope Francis, we are unreservedly defending the Amazon and demanding urgent measures from governments against violent and irrational aggression against nature and the destruction of the forest that kills ancient flora and fauna with criminal fires."
Kräutler said the letter was necessary because the government had spread false rumors that the Catholic Church was undermining Brazilian sovereignty.
Priests and nuns have a long history of working with poor communities in the Amazon, which has often put them at odds with powerful business interests and authorities. During the 1970s, the Liberation Theology movement was closely aligned with the left-wing resistance to the military dictatorship of the time.
In 2005, the American nun Dorothy Stang was murdered by landowners. One of his followers, Father Amaro Lopes, was arrested last year in the Xingu River basin. Kräutler had so many death threats that he needed police protection for more than 10 years.
Tensions have risen further since Bolsonaro, a former military officer who championed the use of torture and killings during the 20-year dictatorship that ended in 1985, became president.
It has weakened government protections of the rainforest, verbally attacked indigenous groups, accused environmental NGOs of starting fires and severed ties with foreign donors to the Amazon Fund. In July, when deforestation alerts jumped 278% compared to the same month last year, he fired the head of the space agency that provided the data.
On Saturday, Bolsonaro confirmed that he wanted the Brazilian intelligence agency to conduct surveillance at the Amazon synod. "There is a lot of political influence there," the president reportedly told reporters.
Although nominally Catholic, Bolsonaro was baptized a few years ago by evangelical pastors in Israel. His rise to power has largely depended on the support of the Pentecostal movement, which is growing much faster than the Catholic Church.
A main goal of the synod is to increase the capacity of the Catholic church to evangelize in the Amazon and, although it has not been declared, to counter the rise of Pentecostalism, which tends to support the exploitation of resources and has made advances among indigenous communities and riverside. But the bishops have been hampered by the difficulty of finding priests willing to work in the remote region.
One of the more radical ideas in a preparatory document for the synod, Instrumentum Laboris, is to allow older married men to be ordained, a move that would end a centuries-old requirement that priests be celibate.
Francis previously said that he would be open to allowing married men to be ordained in areas where there is a priest shortage, but the idea is highly controversial among Vatican conservatives, as the cardinals described it as "heretical" and "apostasy." .
Instrumentum Laboris also laments the crisis in the Amazon, which it attributes to "secularization, the culture of discarding and the idolatry of money."
"Today the Amazon is wounded, its beauty deformed, a place of pain and violence," he continues. “The multiple destruction of human and environmental life, diseases and pollution of rivers and lands, the felling and burning of trees, the massive loss of biodiversity, the disappearance of species (more than 1 million of the 8 million animals and plants are at risk), constitute a brutal reality that challenges us all.
“Violence, chaos and corruption are rampant. The territory has become a space of discord and the extermination of peoples, cultures and generations ”.