JPIC Congress Focuses on Environmental Justice and Amazon Project

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM In the Headlines

QUITO, Ecuador — Close to 80 friar JPIC animators from all over Latin America, the U.S. and Canada, as well as Franciscan Sisters, and Secular Franciscans attended the 3rd Pan-American JPIC Congress of the Franciscan Order, in South America from Nov. 1 to 7, 2011.

The first few days of the meeting focused on the Amazon Project, approved by the General Chapter of the Order in 2009. The Amazon Project represents a major move on the part of the Order to respond to the gravity and urgency of the environmental crisis. It is a prophetic commitment to a coordinated and sustained effort to safeguard our sister, Mother Earth, and defend the poor and marginalized that bear the brunt of the ecological devastation.

At the meeting in Quito, a number of presentations were given about the critical importance that the Amazon plays in helping to maintain the life-support system of our planet. The Congress also included information about the Amazon’s impact on the regional and global climate, and the important role that the indigenous communities play in helping the Western societies develop more holistic, ecologically sustainable patterns of living.

An Augustinian friar and global climate scientist said that if the rate of deforestation continued along the current trajectory, within the next few decades much of the Amazon was going to become a savanna, radically changing the climate in South America. That, in turn, would have a devastating impact on agriculture and cause mass migration and unimaginable suffering for millions of people that would likely be pushed deeper into poverty and despair.

Given the historic presence of the Franciscan Order in the Amazon region and the great contribution made by friars of Holy Name Province in preaching and witnessing to the Gospel in the countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru, it is my hope that Holy Name Province will be a significant partner in this new prophetic initiative of the larger Franciscan Order.

Toward the end of the Pan-American JPIC Congress, all the conferences made commitments to help advance the environmental justice and support the Amazon Project of the Order. The proposals for actions made by the members of the English-speaking JPIC Conference include:
• Collaboration with secular and ecclesial entities in advocating for environmental justice in the Amazon region and to set up a communication network to facilitate collaboration.
• Remembering in prayer, education and action the needs of the Amazon region each year on Amazon Day in August.
• Proposing to Provincial Councils and Formation Councils that JPIC education be intentionally included in postulancy, novitiate, post-novitiate and ongoing formation programs, and ensuring that the existing programs will be shared among the Provinces.
• Proposing to Provincials the possibility of providing Franciscan theology and spirituality courses on environmental justice theory and practice for friars and lay partners in ministry.

Of course, someone may object to that by saying: “Why would we get involve with the Amazon Project? Don’t we have enough pressing local environmental issues to work on? Amazon is too far away; there is nothing that we can do about what is happening there.”

jacekjpic-rAllow me to respond to this objection. First of all, being engaged in an environmental justice issue on local and global levels is not mutually exclusive but complementary. In fact, our Church and the Province have already been acting both locally and globally since their inceptions. Furthermore, as we try to promote energy efficiency, lower our carbon footprint, or protect our watersheds at local levels, the Gospel still challenges us to enlarge our circles of compassion and solidarity.

In so many ways, the highly consumerist lifestyles of the people in the U.S. and the public policies of our country contribute to the destruction of the Amazon. And since we’re part of the problem, we ought to be part of the solution. The Amazon may seem far away, but its fate and the fate of millions of people in South America and our country are intimately connected. In a similar fashion, if we choose to be involved in the Amazon Project of the Order, we can make a significant impact. How? By educating ourselves on the importance of the Amazon and ways we can make a difference, raising awareness among the children, youth and adults with whom we come into contact in our ministries, advocating in support of the environmental justice and the rights of the indigenous people.

I believe that the friars of Holy Name Province and our lay partners-in-ministry can live up to this great challenge. If we act with passion, creativity and audacity in regard to the Amazon Project, we can help to capture the imagination of many Catholics in the Americas. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.

— Fr. Jacek, based in Silver Spring, Md., is chair of the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate. In January 2011, he participated in the Polar Bear Plunge organized by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Editor’s note: Joseph Rozansky, OFM, director of the Order’s JPIC Office, is pictured in the group photo of Congress attendees.