Pope Francis appoints first cardinal from Amazon rainforest

For observers of the church, it will come as no surprise that Francis has finally named an Amazonian cardinal, given the importance the region has had for his papacy and the attention he has shown it.

Published: 01st July 2022 06:20 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st July 2022 06:20 PM   |  A+A-

Pope Francis. (Photo | AP)

Pope Francis. (Photo | AP)

By Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO: When the Archbishop of the Brazilian city of Manaus Leonardo Steiner kneels before Pope Francis on August 27, the Brazilian clergyman will make history as the first cardinal to come from the Amazon region.

“The communities feel that the distance between Rome and the Amazon is now smaller,” Steiner told The Associated Press in a written interview. “Perhaps this is the reason for the Amazonian people’s joy with Pope Francis’ move.”

Steiner attributed his selection to four priorities of the pope: the desire to do more missionary work in the Amazon and to be attentive to the poor; to care for the Amazon “as our common home” and to be a Church that "knows how to contribute to the autonomy of Indigenous people.”

Sprawling across nine countries, the Amazon region is larger than the European Union. It is home to 34 million people, of whom more than three million are Indigenous, belonging to around 400 ethnic groups, according to the Catholic Church.

There is a religious lens through which to see the acute environmental struggles playing out in the region as well: The Catholic Church’s socio-environmental agenda is a contentious issue with numerous Brazilian Pentecostal churches. These have a powerful caucus in Brazil's parliament and have embraced the pro-agrobusiness beef caucus in Congress. Both Pentecostals and cattle industry advocates belong to far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s political base.

Cardinals are the most senior clergy below the pope. Often called “red hats” because of the color of their skullcaps, they serve as papal advisors. More important, together they select each pope, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

For observers of the church, it will come as no surprise that Francis has finally named an Amazonian cardinal, given the importance the region has had for his papacy and the attention he has shown it.

POPE FRANCIS' ENVIRONMENTAL AWAKENING

Francis was first moved by the plight of the vast Amazon basin in 2007, during the Episcopal Council of Latin American Bishops Conference, according to the Brazilian priest and historian José Oscar Beozzo. Francis was at that time the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and helped write the official account of the conference. The final text advocates for the preservation of both the Amazon and Antarctica.

Francis then dedicated an entire synod, or meeting, of bishops from the region in 2019. In his environmental awakening, crystallized in his 2015 encyclical “Praised Be,” he advocates for the preservation of the region's biodiversity and portrays Indigenous peoples as forest guardians. In 2018, he also visited Madre de Dios, a region in the Peruvian Amazon devastated by illegal mining and logging.

The pope made Steiner archbishop of Manaus just after the Amazon synod ended, tapping a Franciscan who clearly shares the same ethos and ideology as the pope’s namesake, St. Francis. The pope may have noticed Steiner because he had a prominent position in the Brazilian bishops’ conference and was acting as its secretary-general from 2011-2019. He also has serious Roman credentials, having served as the secretary-general of the Franciscans’ Pontifical Antonianum University in Rome, one of the major pontifical universities.



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  • Dr.Cajetan Coelho

    Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: "What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another."
    3 months ago reply
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