As with so many of the reforms and magisterial acts of the papacy of Pope Francis, Querida Amazonia will surely make a lasting impact on the Universal Church into the future. Yet in the coming days and weeks, you will hear no end to the dissection, analysis, and—sadly—spin about the document. Querida Amazonia is full of gorgeous symbolism, powerful theology, and soul-stirring poetry. I could respond to the Pope’s new apostolic exhortation from many potential angles, but in this piece I will to focus on why Querida Amazonia is relevant to the average Catholic.
Because my colleague Nathan Turowsky has already given a fantastic selection of quotes from the exhortation, I will refrain from quoting it extensively. Instead, what I would like to do is to help prepare you to read Querida Amazonia for yourself. (And, let’s be clear, you should read it. I’ll explain why.) The letter is short—only 29 pages—and is written with a tone of great urgency. The document is not meant only to be read by the Catholics living in the Amazon region.
Yes, the Pope begins his exhortation with the words Querida Amazonia; “Beloved Amazon.” But it is addressed—no less—to “all people of good will.”
And that’s you. Isn’t it?
Of course it is. So, person of good will, what exactly has the Pope in Rome proposed to you?
Be Still and Know
Before opening the first page of the new letter, pray for docility before the Lord. Ask him for the grace to be open to his Vicar’s teachings. Francis repeatedly emphasizes that we all need to hear the Gospel proclamation again, as if for the first time. This is the newness of the Gospel message that he speaks of; that Christians can return to again and again. It is our source of eternal comfort and hope in a fallen world.
This letter presents an opportunity to change. For those of us who have been critical of Francis, or skeptical about some of his decisions and teachings, Querida Amazonia provides an opportunity for us to recollect and reconsider. To those of us who have lived in indifference, it is a wake-up call to the suffering our distant loved ones are enduring at this very moment. Querida Amazonia is an opportunity to pause and reflect. (Look at the world around us. We need to.)
Hear the Cry of Jesus Christ
In Querida Amazonia, the Pope talks to us about the kerygma of the Gospel once again, and if you’ve become familiar with this word, you may read right past it. It simply means the proclamation, the “cry” of the Gospel. But this kerygma is not only the focal point of this particular papal document. It’s the purpose of Catholicism. Every structure, every practice, every belief of the Catholic Church should be, by its very nature, designed to preach this essential message.
And that’s the Holy Father’s point: everything the Church is, says, and does is meant to do nothing less than bring Jesus to us. When the Church’s leaders and members fail to preach the Gospel, the negative consequences spread throughout the world. Most especially, it robs people of the opportunity to love and be loved by the Lord.
Hear the Cry of the Poor
In Querida Amazonia, the Pope asks us to see the suffering Jesus in the poor. The poor, the indigenous, migrants, refugees, and society’s marginalized all have the right to be free and to have their human dignity respected. Their cultures deserve respect and their ways of life ought to be protected.
These issues, as Francis points out, are so often merely politicized in the West. We tend to have a very self-centered view of the world around us, no doubt influenced by our culture’s rampant consumerism. Not only is the modern Western way of life unsustainable, but it is literally responsible for the deaths, dislocations, and despair of innumerable people.
As Catholics, we have to come to grips with the reality that our Western mode of existence has palpable consequences throughout the world. Everything, from the smallest river to the oceans to the air, is interconnected. And we are all interconnected with it, too.
The Pope calls for us to learn once again what it means to live in awe of the Lord of all creation. He also reminds us that that Lord is perfectly just, and he demands justice for his poor ones. It is our choice whether to be vessels of justice or injustice in this world, and only Jesus can provide us the hope to press on when injustice seems insurmountable.
Hear the Cry of the Earth
For all its natural wonder and cultural diversity, the Amazon is a region that is sadly rife with corruption and greed. Corporations and governments on the continent and beyond are working together on deforestation projects that destroy native communities, cause extinctions, and chase indigenous people toward impoverishment outside major cities.
Because all creation is interconnected, we have the responsibility to properly care for it. The environment is in no sense a possession. Instead, it is pure gift, and a gift for all equally. No one has the right to destroy the environment. No one has the right to damage the earth, the water, or the air. These belong to no one, but are instead provided by the Lord for us all to share. We all have an individual and collective responsibility for our common home.
And our home can’t wait much longer for us to begin acting responsibly.
In Querida Amazonia, the Pope tells us, “The incidents of injustice and cruelty that took place in the Amazon region even in the last century ought to provoke profound abhorrence.”
The Pope is angry. We ought to be angry, too. The Amazon, along with so much of the global environment, is being torn to pieces by profit-hungry operators. Francis brings before us just a smattering of the horrors our Amazonian family has experienced (often even at the hands of Catholics). He makes abundantly clear that the proper response to these sins is a holy outrage. They truly do “cry out” to heaven—and to us. We need to become angry with the anger of Jesus.
Known for his emphasis on God’s everlasting mercy, Francis does not shy away from declaring that God is outraged. Every man, woman, and child who is oppressed, within and without the Amazon, is the object of God’s limitless love. Every crime against them, their way of life, and their home is a sin. They are sins that cry out to God to be heard. These are sins that cry out for justice.
A kerygma, a proclamation, a cry… The cry of the poor is the voice of the Lord. The cry of the earth is the voice of the Lord. It is one voice that calls out to us to give of ourselves.
Then, Read the Synod Document
In the opening words of Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis explicitly says that this post-synodal exhortation in no way replaces the Amazon Synod’s final document. Instead, the Pope says that he wants us to read and reflect on the Synod’s document. He even states he does not cite the document specifically so that it will be read in its entirety.
Querida Amazonia is an opportunity to hear again the proclamation of Jesus’s divine, saving love. It is a chance to pause, reflect, and contemplate the Lord of creation. And it is a determined plea for us to hear the cry of all our suffering brothers and sisters, within the Amazon and around the world. It is an opportunity for all people of good will to read and take to heart.
This article appears in our coverage of the Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia. Click here to view the full series.
Image: Adobe Stock.
Joe Dantona is a convert living in eastern Ohio. He studied political science, history, and theology. He divides his free time between entertaining his wife and kids with dad jokes and getting distracted while reading good books.