Churches in Norway have denounced that the “uncontrolled” spread of COVID-19 in the Amazon is causing the “collapse” of health systems.

– “In close contact” during risk of “immense humanitarian tragedy”

“As Norwegian Churches we are in close contact with our sisters and brothers in faith in Brazil and are kept updated of their efforts to serve their communities in these times of crisis”, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway Olav Fykse Tveit and Catholic Bishop of Oslo Bernt Eidsvig wrote in a May 12 letter to the Brazilian embassy in the country.

“We find the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in the Amazon deeply worrying, causing the collapse of health systems”, Tveit and Eidsvig denounced.

The Norwegian Christian leaders’ message came after the Brazilian Catholic bishops in a May 4 statement deplored the sorry state of coronavirus containment measures in the country, and the fact that “many people with evident symptoms of the disease die at home without medical assistance and access to a hospital”.

Not only were indigenous and traditional peoples particularly vulnerable to the virus, but “urban populations, especially in the peripheries, are exposed and have their living conditions further degraded by lack of basic sanitation, decent housing, food and employment”, the Brazilian bishops decried.

The prelates further alerted that there are “migrants, refugees, urban indigenous peoples, industrial workers, domestic workers, people who live from informal work who cry out for health protection”.

“With the Amazon increasingly devastated, successive pandemics will come, worse than the one we are currently experiencing”, the bishops warned, denouncing the gold mining, extractivism and deforestation that have decimated the region.

In the immediate context of COVID-19, however, the Brazilian prelates urged the government of President Jair Bolsonaro “to implement responsible care strategies for the most vulnerable population sectors” to avert what the country’s Amazon region bishops had warned could become “an immense humanitarian tragedy caused by structural collapse”.

– Church, others worried about risk of COVID-19 “genocide” among indigenous

Despite the Brazilian bishops’ plea, caring for the most vulnerable in the midst of the outbreak doesn’t seem to be on Bolsonaro’s list of priorities, as the president continues to shake hands and take selfies with supporters in the face of what he says is a “little flu” but which has infected over 312,000 Brazilians to date and killed at least 20,000.

In the meantime, the Pan-Amazonian Church Network (REPAM) and the National Indigenous Mobilisation this week accused Bolsonaro’s administration of harbouring “an evident intention… to keep the Indigenous Health Care System from functioning” amid the pandemic.

That charge is particularly serious given that days back 32 attorneys from the Brazilian Prosecution Service warned that in the context of COVID-19 “the risk of genocide among indigenous peoples requires emergency action from public entities”.

– REPAM: “The pain and the lament of peoples and the earth meld into a single cry”

While the Church in Brazil and beyond continued to beg Bolsonaro to act on the coronavirus, the REPAM denounced that “a tremendous force, on a scale never seen before, is devastating Amazonia” in its entirety.

That force, the REPAM said, was the perfect storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, the “virus of violence” in the indigenous territories and the “plundering” of the region through mining and deforestation.

“The pain and the lament of peoples and the earth meld into a single cry”, the REPAM lamented.

In the face of that sorrow, and coinciding with Laudato si’ Week – in which the Church invites Catholics and other people of good will to increase their efforts for the care of creation – the REPAM affirmed that “this is a decisive time for Amazonia and for the world”.

The COVID-19 crossroads can be “a time of gestation of new relationships inspired by integral ecology”, the REPAM said, “or for the loss of the dreams of the Synod for the Amazon if fear, special interests and pressure from those who possess great capital impose with increasing force the model of an ‘economy that kills'”.

More on Novena from the Church in Norway:

Nordic Lutheran, Catholic bishops cry out on corona, migrant crises: “A virus must be combated, but not people seeking refuge”

More on the Church’s protection of the indigenous:

Irish Church development org denounces climate change disasters kill 14 times more women than men


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.