Describing the Amazon rainforest as “vital for our planet,” Pope Francis prayed for action to extinguish the massive fires burning there.
“We are all worried about the vast fires that have developed in the Amazon,” the pope said after leading the Angelus prayer on August 25.
“Let us pray that with the commitment of all they will be brought under control quickly. That forest lung is vital for our planet.”
Leaders of the Latin American bishops’ council, known as CELAM, also urged international action to save the Amazon rainforest from the fires.
“We urge the governments of the Amazonian countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community, to take serious measures to save the lungs of the world,” the bishops said in a council statement.
“What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue, but is of global reach,” the bishops said. “If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers.”
The Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, according to scientific measurements.
Brazil’s space research institute, which is responsible for satellite monitoring of the Amazon, had reported that the number of wildfires, common in July and August, had reached a record number already in 2019, with 72,843 fires spotted.
The U.S. space agency, NASA, released satellite imagery on August 21 and 22 showing how smoke from the fires had created “a shroud that is clearly visible across much of the centre of South America.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called on world leaders to place the fires at the top of their agenda as they meet in France for the Group of Seven summit. Attendees include President Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Macron and the leaders from Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said publicly that he believes non-governmental agencies — including Catholic-backed agencies such as the Land Pastoral and the Indigenous Missionary Council — are behind the illegal burnings because they have opposed his call for development of the rainforest. The organisations have strongly denied the allegations.
In their statement, the bishops noted that the upcoming October Synod of Bishops for the Amazon will discuss the plight of the indigenous living in the area as well as the deforestation of the region. Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.
“Hope for the proximity of the Amazon synod, convened by Pope Francis, is stained by the pain of this natural tragedy,” the bishops said.
“To the brethren indigenous peoples who inhabit this beloved territory, we express all our closeness and join your voices with yours to shout to the world for solidarity and pay attention to end this devastation.”
Whilst the deforestation of the world’s largest tropical forest and the violence against the indigenous population there have been a great concern to the Catholic Church, the upcoming synod also has caused apprehension for the Bolsonaro government.
In February, the Brazilian government was forced to deny that it was spying, through its intelligence agency, ABIN, on more “progressive” bishops and priests working on the synod.
The government’s Institutional Security Cabinet, known as ISC, however, admitted it was worried that the meeting would be used to criticise the Bolsonaro administration’s stance on environment and indigenous rights.
“There are no general criticism of the Catholic Church. There is the functional concern of the Minister of State Chief of the Institutional Security Office for some points of the synod’s Amazon agenda that will take place at the Vatican in October this year,” said an ISC statement at the time.
The CELAM bishops, quoting Pope Francis from his homily at his papal inauguration in March 2013, appealed to “all those who hold positions of responsibility in the economic, political and social fields, all men and women of goodwill: (to) be guardians of creation, of the design of God inscribed in nature, guardians of the other, of the environment; let’s not let the signs of destruction and death follow the path of our world.”
The declaration was signed by Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, of Trujillo, Peru, CELAM president, as well as the officers of the organisation.