The Bishop of the Amazon in South America says communities in her region are suffering the effects of environmental abuse, as their territories and homes are swept away by increased deforestation and fires.
The Rt Revd Marinez Bassotto is the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Amazon which is part of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. The diocese covers five states in the northern part of Brazil within the Amazon territory.
Bishop Marinez explained why she believes the Church has a duty to stand up against governments and companies who are ignoring the call to stop deforestation and other environmental abuses.
She said the effects of climate change and of ecological and environmental degradation and devastation had been dramatic. According to the Bishop, during the pandemic the Brazilian Government used the crisis to approve laws and deregulation that has led to an increase in deforestation and in slash-and-burn fields in the Amazon region.
“The percentage of territory that was ravaged during this period increased by more than 200 per cent, reaching a record of 810 Km² of deforestation in the Amazon in the last few months. Also fires have increased dramatically,” Bishop Marinez said.
According to the bishop, native riverside communities were being attacked and leaders coerced. “They are suffering a lot,” she said. “There is an environmental degradation and a consecutive attack on people living in those regions, who protect the environment.”
“We human beings, have an essential responsibility to take care of creation. For us, taking care of socio-environmental issues in this Amazon region, that is being a Church. And taking care of the environment is also being a Church, and taking care of the people who live in this environment.
“For us here in the Amazon region, the territories are like extensions of native peoples’ bodies. They are part of their sacredness. So, when creation is degraded, for our peoples, their bodies are also degraded. It’s a suffering with serious consequences for people’s spirituality, with serious consequences for life as a whole, and it harms and violates the integrity of God’s creation.”
Could you tell us about young people’s views on the climate crisis and their expectations on the Church?
“I see them much more involved and much more engaged with this worry than people from previous generations. In the past people didn’t worry about these matters. Nowadays, I can see that young people in the church are worried, and they want the Church to be involved and to be active in issues related to the environment.”
Bishop Marinez said young people want to work on behalf of the environment with reforestation and to engage in defence and advocacy movements to protect the environment.
“It’s a youth that wants a Church that effectively lives by its ecological commitment. So, in the Anglican Diocese of the Amazon, our youth has been the Church’s presence in the life of the native peoples, with some very special projects. One of these projects is about indigenous identity, and it’s a training project with indigenous youth and women. The Church youth has been doing a preparatory course for the indigenous youth to go to university.”
She said giving knowledge and education was a way of empowering indigenous communities. “As long as they have access to information, they can make their voices heard too.”
The Bishop said one of the expectations of their young people is for the Lambeth Conference to put climate justice on the table, and especially what is happening in the Amazon.
“Every day I learn something from my daughters. Every day they make me see the world differently. So, the Church needs to look and make room to listen to what the youth have to say.”
The Diocese of the Amazon has been taking practical steps to combat deforestation and make changes. Bishop Marinez explained, “Last January, we started a project called Planting Lives. It’s an ecumenical project which aims to distribute native Amazonian tree seedlings for reforestation, and to raise awareness in young people and adults about the socio-environmental justice in our Amazonian reality.”
She said the seedling distribution provided an opportunity to discuss the Amazonian situation and the need for actions, to pressure the government and actions in favour of the forest peoples. “It’s been happening since January. We already have enough seedlings to perform the first public act of planting.”
How can the bishops of the Anglican Communion help in the fight for climate justice?
Joining forces to take a stand on climate justice with her fellow bishops is vital according to Bishop Marinez. She said, “We need to put our voices together, and make them heard in opportune times, such as COP26, and other events that might happen.
“Another thing I believe we can do is to give voice to the native peoples. I believe this is something that we can bring as a contribution that’s specific to the Anglican Communion for the global discussion of climate justice, which is to give voice to the indigenous peoples all over the world. And that’s something we can do before Lambeth, on our journey there and also after Lambeth.”
Bishop Marinez said she believes taking a stand against climate injustice is part of being Christ’s disciple.
“I don’t raise my voice against climate injustices, against socio-environmental injustices, because it’s part of my ideology,” she said. “I do these things because of the Gospel… I fight for climate justice because I’m Christ’s disciple. I think discipleship is the foundation for all of our actions in society.”