Querida Amazonía (“Beloved Amazon”) is the only one of Pope Francis’ five apostolic exhortations released to date directed not only “to the people of God” but also “to all persons of good will”.

Francis wrote directly to that point in the text published today, when he insisted he was addressing the Querida Amazonía “to the whole world”.

“I am doing so to help awaken their affection and concern for that land which is also ‘ours’, and to invite them to value it and acknowledge it as a sacred mystery”, the Pope wrote.

What, then, is this “affection and concern” for the Amazon that Francis seeks to promote in Querida Amazonía not only in Catholics but also in people of other faiths, or of none?

“A cry that rises up to heaven”

The first clue comes in paragraph 9 of Querida Amazonía, where the Pope warns that “the colonizing interests that have continued to expand – legally and illegally – the timber and mining industries, and have expelled or marginalized the indigenous peoples, the river people and those of African descent, are provoking a cry that rises up to heaven”.

Migrations of indigenous peoples to the outskirts of cities are exposing them to “the worst forms of enslavement, subjection and poverty”, Francis laments, which is why “the cry of the Amazon region does not rise up from the depths of the forests alone, but from the streets of its cities as well” (Querida Amazonía, 10).

“The imbalance of power is enormous”

“Ever since the final decades of the last century, the Amazon region has been presented as an enormous empty space to be filled, a source of raw resources to be developed, a wild expanse to be domesticated… [and] the indigenous… viewed as intruders or usurpers”, the Pope continues (12).

And yet, that colonialism continues today.

“The imbalance of power is enormous; the weak have no means of defending themselves, while the winners take it all”, Francis deplores (13).

“The businesses, national or international, which harm the Amazon and fail to respect the right of the original peoples to the land and its boundaries, and to self-determination and prior consent, should be called for what they are: injustice and crime” or “an instrument of death”, the Pope goes on to denounce, in strikingly harsh language (14).

Repeating John Paul II’s call that “we cannot allow globalization to become ‘a new version of colonialism'” (14), Francis says the only response we can and should have to the Amazon people’s suffering is “to feel outrage and beg forgiveness”.

“Networks of solidarity and development”

The “injustice and cruelty” to which the indigenous have been exposed should provoke in us a “profound abhorrence”, the Pope goes on to say (15).

But he also cautions that the suffering of the Amazon peoples must make us “more sensitive to the need to acknowledge current forms of human exploitation, abuse and killing” (15).

“Such a history of suffering and contempt does not heal easily”, Francis warns (16).

“Nor has colonization ended; in many places, it has been changed, disguised and concealed, while losing none of its contempt for the life of the poor and the fragility of the environment” (16).

But our “healthy sense of indignation” must lead us to “overcome the various colonizing mentalities and to build networks of solidarity and development”, with the aim of treating the indigenous in an “authentically human” way (17), the Pope says.

Although, “how do we heal all these hurts” (21) provoked by the “grave excesses” (18) of the colonization of the Amazon region, the Pope asks, and for which he once again expresses his “shame” at the Church’s involvement in (19)?

“To cultivate without uprooting”

For Francis, in Querida Amazonía, the way to heal the hurts is to help the Amazon become again “a place of social dialogue, especially between the various original peoples, for the sake of developing forms of fellowship and joint struggle” (26).

“The rest of us are called to participate as ‘guests’ and to seek out with great respect paths of encounter that can enrich the Amazon region”, the Pope suggests.

But that “social dialogue” we have the duty to sponsor “must not only favour the preferential option on behalf of the poor, the marginalized and the excluded, but also respect them as having a leading role to play”, Francis cautions (27).

In short, our role as outsiders to the region is “to cultivate without uprooting, to foster growth without weakening identity, to be supportive without being invasive” (28).

Indigenous “readily notice our darker aspects”

Part of that support we can offer the Amazon and its peoples is to stop seeing its inhabitant as “‘uncivilized’ savages”, the Pope says (29).

But our responsibility goes deeper than that: we are to do everything possible to ensure the cities the indigenous are drawn to, because of colonising invasions, are no longer the “tragic scenario of discarded lives” (30).

And yet the West’s dialogue with the Amazon must go both ways, the Pope insists.

The indigenous can make us more attuned to “consumerism, individualism, discrimination, inequality, and any number” of other problems that “represent the weaker side of supposedly more developed cultures”, Francis points out (36).

“The ethnic groups that, in interaction with nature, developed a cultural treasure marked by a strong sense of community, readily notice our darker aspects, which we do not recognize in the midst of our alleged progress. Consequently, it will prove beneficial to listen to their experience of life”.

“Co-responsibility for the diversity that embellishes our humanity”

In short, for the necessary dialogue to happen, the Pope encourages us all to “sit around the common table” and “increase our sense of co-responsibility for the diversity that embellishes our humanity” (37).

“The globalized economy shamelessly damages human, social and cultural richness”, Francis decries, for which reason it is necessary to develop a “first ecology” that “teaches us to care for our brothers and sisters and the environment” (41).

And on an ecological level, too, the Pope warns us that “the inescapable truth is that, as things stand, this way of treating the Amazon territory” – plundering it for its natural resources – “spells the end for so much life, for so much beauty, even though people would like to keep thinking that nothing is happening” (47).

“Sound and sustainable ecology”

“The equilibrium of our planet… depends on the health of the Amazon region”, Francis recalls, in the face of which truth “the interest of a few powerful industries should not be considered more important than the good of the Amazon region and of humanity as a whole” (48).

Even though “the powerful are never satisfied with the profits they make” (52), and “frequently” we onlookers “let our consciences be deadened” (53), and our “God-given aesthetic and contemplative sense… so often we let languish” (56).

The “first” or “integral” ecology the Pope calls for in Querida Amazonía consists in us learning to truly “contemplate the Amazon region” (55), and not to be “content simply with fine-tuning technical questions or political, juridical and social decisions” to do with the environment (58).

In short, in the face of “consumerism and the culture of waste”, the Pope calls believers and non-believers to “a sound and sustainable ecology, one capable of bringing about change” (58).

But that’s an ecology that “will not develop unless people are changed, unless they are encouraged to opt for another style of life, one less greedy and more serene, more respectful and less anxious, more fraternal” (58).

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