Two years after the Amazon Synod: Indigenous women’s voices more relevant than ever – CIDSE

Two years after the Amazon Synod: Indigenous women’s voices more relevant than ever

In October 2019, over two hundred people gathered for three weeks in Rome for the Amazon Synod to discuss Integral Ecology, the Amazon, and the Church. This important gathering aimed to put at the centre of the Church’s reflection the lives of 34 million people, as well as the protection of all forms of life in this region and its biodiversity, as a key contribution to the care of our common home. It opened up an important dialogue with local communities and lifted up their voices. Two years after the Amazon Synod, we share again some of these testimonies that are still very relevant.  

The series ‘Voices of Women: Amazon Synod’, of which we share excepts below, was originally published by Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, CIDSE’s member based in the USA.

Visolela Rosalinda “Rosa” Namises

Right before the Amazon Synod, Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Kathy Bond, interviewed indigenous women and women invited to participate. One of these indigenous women was Visolela Rosalinda “Rosa” Namises, a social, gender equality and human rights activist and chief of the /Khomanin people in Namibia. When asked ‘What would you like to say to Pope Francis and all those meeting in Rome for the Synod on the Amazon about the value of indigenous traditions and spirituality in a broken world?’ she replied:

“I want to say thank you for this opportunity that is rarely given to us as women and especially women from the perspective of Indigenous cultures […] I know that your teachings were first not Catholic. They were indigenous. The prayers, blessings with water, incense that we as Catholics are using today, especially in baptism, all of it comes from the indigenous. If we lose the Amazon, if we lose our indigenous lifestyle, if we kill our mothers and our fathers – the holders of this wisdom – and if we fail to protect them, it will harm the generations to come, including the new priests who will become bishops and pope. I am asking you as you deliberate to find a small space in your hearts to protect the Amazon, to protect the indigenous people’s ways of living”.  

Sweet Medicine

Another indigenous woman interviewed ahead of the Synod was Sweet Medicine Nation, a Native American woman medicine healer of Chickasaw lineage. Living in Oregon’s green forest for the last 50 years, she has worked to give voice to those things of nature that cannot speak. 

Sweet Medicine: “What I would speak to in a Synod is to speak for all of those who have no voice [and no way] to stand in a Synod: the trees, the water, and the animals. […] I would speak for the animals that are becoming extinct because of our greed. […] I would to speak to the vulnerability of our wanting to control things that are natural. […] I would say that I come here as a representative of the world of nations that cannot stand before you today and I would [say] consider who and what is the higher law. The natural law was here before we had language. And who are we to feel as if we have the higher law when it is in God’s hands, the great Mystery’s hands. What befalls us? We must guard and protect the knowledge and the wisdom of our inner council before we even turn ourselves over to other councils. I would ask each one of you [at the Synod on the Amazon] to consider when you deliberate and make decisions that you are looking at the total of those that you have been entrusted to care for. The fish can’t make it home if when we are farming, polluting lakes, and rivers and ocean. We are farming fish. They don’t want to be farmed, they want to be free just like you and me. We need to remember compassion and non-judgment. … We don’t understand others’ ways until we walk in their moccasins”.

As a representative of the Cry for Life Network (Rede um Grito pela Vida), working to combat human trafficking in the Amazon region of Brazil, Sister Roselei Bertoldo was one of those invited to participate in the Synod. Through her involvement in the process leading up to the Synod, she heard the voices of women across the Amazon naming situations of death, for example, the destruction of the environment and indigenous communities. “The women of the Amazon bring to the surface all of these realities: internal migration and international immigration, the lack of jobs and life opportunities. The expulsion of communities in the rural regions due to mega projects such as hydro-electric dams, mining, and agro-business also destroys local cultures.” 

Roselei Bertoldo

‘I will take to Pope Francis the voices of these women who say the Church cannot be silent in the face of such violations. In the process of evangelization, the Church must protect life. When women are violated, when their bodies are violated, the Body of Christ is violated. Many women say that the Church is present, caring for the people, their cultures, and the land. Where the Catholic Church is no longer present, however, for example, where evangelical churches have been planted, some say there has been an increase in illegal mining and exploitation. We want to say to Pope Francis that the Church plays an important role in protecting life in the Amazon. It is not possible to talk about evangelization in the Amazon without considering the problems of violence against women, femicide, violence against youth, sexual abuse and exploitation’.

At the Amazon Synod, 36 women were able to participate. Sister Roselei Bertoldo: ‘We, women, made great strides. We may not be able to translate what they all mean right now, but we are sure that we have left a legacy for future generations by opening new paths to a church with a feminine and feminist face, a church that builds and grows, so that we have communities that take care of life and our common home.’  

Josianne Gauthier

This feeling was echoed by CIDSE’s Secretary General, Josianne Gauthier. Invited to join the Synod as a special guest, she was deeply moved by the women present. “These women, from all parts of the Amazon, reflected many different views and identities: Indigenous, Lay, and Religious. They were strong, they were listened to and they commanded respect and called for action. The raw power of their courageous testimonies in and out of the Synod discussions, as well as their invaluable contribution to the life of the Church in the Amazon, shows a love for humanity and for our Common Home which came through with passion and urgency. I learned a great deal from every one of them and know that this too is part of the profound and illuminating change in the Church which must continue after the Synod.”

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