Assembly of Latin American Bishops to learn from indigenous community work

By Lucien Chauvin, Catholic Information Service

LIMA, Peru (CNS) – Indigenous peoples of Latin America will play a central role at a regional assembly that the Catholic Church will hold in Mexico at the end of November.

The Sixth Church Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean will chart a course for the church in the region as it moves towards milestone events in the years to come, including, in 2031, the 500th anniversary of the apparition of Mary to Saint Juan Diego, a native Chichimeca Man, in what is now Mexico City.

It is also an opportunity for the indigenous peoples of Latin America to highlight their role in church and society, as well as the challenges they continue to face in the region.

The assembly is based on the encyclical “Laudato Si ‘” of Pope Francis of 2015 and the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon of 2019, in particular its process of consultation or listening. It also helps to lay the foundations for the 2023 Synod of Bishops on synodality.

“A synodal church is a church in which everyone is heard. Indigenous peoples have been one step ahead of us with their assemblies and community work. Their example is a major contribution to the synodality of the church, ”said Bishop Rafael Cob of Puyo, Ecuador.

The eight countries of the Amazon basin in Latin America had a head start for the assembly thanks to a listening process they undertook for the Amazon synod.

Church leaders in all eight countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela – began a series of consultations after Pope Francis’ visit to Puerto Maldonado, in the southern Amazon Peruvian, in 2018. While not the first papal visit to an Amazon city, it was the first that specifically addressed the concerns of indigenous peoples – representatives of groups from across the Amazon attended. – and environmental stewardship.

Bishop Eugenio Coter de Pando, Bolivia, said the work that was done before the assembly in Mexico has improved over the process that began with the Amazon synod.

“We have taken the thinking we have been doing since 2018 forward. We are focusing on a participatory church, on playing an active role in communities,” he said.

The listening process then provides an outlet for Indigenous peoples to discuss a long list of issues within the church, ranging from bilingual education to new forms of evangelism, as well as economic, political and social threats. growing communities in their countries.

A critical change was the formation of the Amazon Ecclesial Conference (CEAMA), which was officially recognized as a legal body by the Vatican in mid-October. Bishop Coter said the conference is unlike any other in the world because it is ecclesial – including all communities – instead of episcopal, reserved for bishops.

“It is an avenue for listening and being with the communities, in search of new ways of inculturated evangelization”, he declared.

Bishop Cob said CEAMA will allow the church to develop new options for clergy and lay education. He said that the church in Puyo is at the forefront in the training of catechists, with particular emphasis on the role of women.

“We are preparing our catechists to be the servants of this church with the Amazonian face”, he declared. “The voice of the people must be heard, and the church is not going to substitute for that voice, but to help channel it so that it is heard everywhere.”

The bishops recognize that the work of the church is not done in a vacuum and that the pressures on its native peoples are increasing.

“Today there is a greater awareness of indigenous peoples and their contributions. Unfortunately, I do not think that this recognition has led to concrete improvements, ”said Bishop Coter.

He said that in Bolivia, indigenous communities are threatened by the private and public sectors. He said the state insists on building dams along the Madidi River for hydroelectric power, even though the dams will displace indigenous communities and are economically unfeasible.

Hundreds of indigenous people from Bolivia marched 330 miles to the eastern city of Santa Cruz in September to demand that the government honor its commitments to them, including some made after their historic first march in 1990.

Groups in Bolivia are not alone, with original peoples increasing their protests across the continent.

The Chilean government declared a state of emergency in the south of the country in early October to prevent the Mapuche from demonstrating to demand the return of their ancestral lands, while in Peru, around 200 people from seven different indigenous groups occupied a pipeline to draw attention to 50 years of environmental issues. And in Ecuador, indigenous Waorani peoples have filed a lawsuit to prevent the government from increasing oil production.

In Guyana, where the country’s nine indigenous peoples make up half of its Catholic population, groups are pushing again for the government to grant title to ancestral lands. They have been lobbying for over a decade.

Bishop Francis Alleyne of Georgetown, Guyana, said the government is concerned with economic development, not with the development of people.

“The government doesn’t really care about these communities. There are a lot of facades, but nothing more, ”he said.

The Fifth General Conference of Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean was held in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007. The preparatory document for the Sixth Conference in November notes that “In Aparecida, members of indigenous and Afro-peoples Americans were recognized as new societal actors ”demanding that the recognition of their individual and collective rights be“ taken into account in Catholicism ”. He said this continues to be a time for decisions and actions that reject “a colonialist style of evangelism”.

Citing the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis after the Amazon synod, the preparatory document for the November meeting declared that the natives, the Afro-descendants and the peasants “‘are our main dialogue partners, those from whom we are most concerned. to learn”. … Their words, their hopes and their fears should be the most authoritative voice at any dialogue table in their respective territories.

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