The highest-ranking Vatican official ever to visit Guyana will arrive here on April 20th for a three day visit. Cardinal Claudio Hummes from Brazil is a former archbishop of Sao Paulo and is currently the president of the Commission for Ama-onia of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil.
Cardinals are the most senior clergymen in the Catholic Church below the Pope in the hierarchy. They are Bish-ops of important ‘sees’ (dioceses) and come from around the world reflecting the Catholic Church’s diversity. Some Cardinals may head departments of the Vatican. The title of Cardinal is given by the Pope as a personal decision.
The main purpose of the Cardinal’s visit to Guyana is to present the vision of REPAM, which is the Amazonian Church Network formed in 2014. This also includes discussing the relevance of Pope Francis’ recent encycli-cal Laudato Si (Praise Be To You) to conserving the Amazon and helping the poor in the area.
The encyclical which has the subtitle ‘On care for our common home’, is considered to be of great importance in clarifying the mission of the Church in response to ecological challenges. However the Pope’s encyclical is about far more than climate change and the environment. It is also an appeal to hear the cry of the poor. It ties environmental degradation directly to poverty and says the continued abuse of the natural world has the greatest effect on residents of the developing world and serves to keep them at a disadvantage.
The Amazonian Church Network is an attempt to bring together the work of the Catholic Church throughout the Amazonian Region. The network is made up of the nine countries that share part of the Amazon forest. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are three out of those nine and as yet are not really “on board” because of the lack of a common language with the other countries of South America. It is expected that the Cardinal’s visit will begin a dialogue to explore how the Church in these three countries can recognize the important contri-bution we can make to this collabo-rative mission.
The Amazon territory is the largest tropical forest in the world. It covers six million square kilometres and includes the territories of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, Vene-zuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. It is home to 2,779,478 indigenous people, com-prising 390 indigenous tribes and 137 isolated (uncontacted) peoples with their valuable ancestral cultures, and 240 spoken languages belonging to 49 linguistic families.
At the launch of REPAM Peruvian Archbishop Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, S.J., who is also President of the Department of Justice and Solidarity of the Latin American Episcopal Council, explained that the Amazon is “a territory that is devas-tated and threatened by the conces-sions made by States to transna-tional corporations. Large-scale min-ing projects, monoculture and cli-mate change place its lands and natural environment at great risk”, leading to the destruction of cultures, undermining the self-determination of peoples and above all affronting Christ incarnate in the people who live there (indigenous and riparian peoples, peasant farm-ers, afro-descendants and urban populations). REPAM was founded as “God’s answer to this heartfelt and urgent need to care for the life of people so they are able to live in harmony with nature, starting from the widespread and varied presence of members and structures of the Church in Pan-Amazonia”.
Described by many as the Pope’s greatest friend and the most influential cardinal, Cardinal Hummes was sitting next to Pope Francis in the Sistine Chapel when he was elected in 2013. He whispered to the newly-elected Pope “Don’t forget the poor!” and Pope Francis said that immediately he remembered St. Francis of Assisi and “the name Francis came into my heart”. When the newly-elected Pope Francis appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica that same night shortly after his election, Cardinal Hummes was among the cardinals who accompanied the new pope and stood beside him at his immediate left on the balcony.
Planning is being done to work out the details of the Cardinal’s visit to Guyana