Synod Father Proposes New Body to Unite Amazonian Countries

The idea is being advanced as a fruit of the synod, but could it also be part of a politically driven ‘indigenous current’ to create a vast supranational Amazon nature reserve?

Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte speaks at a Vatican media conference Oct. 23; Center: Martin von Hildebrand at a recent meeting with Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte speaks at a Vatican media conference Oct. 23; Center: Martin von Hildebrand at a recent meeting with Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. (photo: Edward Pentin photo /

VATICAN CITY — As the Pan-Amazon Synod draws to a close, attention is turning to the future and possible concrete results the monthlong meeting could yield.

At Tuesday’s press briefing, one fruit could be the creation of an ecclesial body “that unites Amazonian countries,” according to Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, the president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM).

The archbishop of Trujillo, Peru, acknowledged that what has been discussed at the Synod, which closes on Sunday, has to be “turned into practice.”

“You have a synodal document,” he said, but “what happens next?” He said the document cannot simply be “put on a shelf” but now an effort must be made to “try and understand what is to be done next — this is the most important part.”

“We are thinking about establishing an ecclesial body, a specific one that unites Amazonian countries,” Archbishop Cabrejos said. “We don’t yet know what it will be, it could be a council” but it would be a “responsible for translating into practice decisions made here at the synod.”

The archbishop’s desire that the synod unite the Amazon countries to deal with the challenges and threats to the region is naturally seen as a necessary goal, but some observers say it could be linked to the aims of a movement that also wishes to unite the Amazon into a supranational heritage reserve.

The movement is headed by Martin von Hildebrand, grandson of the German philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand. An ethnologist and anthropologist, Von Hildebrand is the architect of the “Anaconda Corridor” or “Triple A Corridor” project, which would create an enormous natural reserve along the Amazon River basin, from the Atlantic to the Andes.

This “supranational territory” project, first proposed four years ago and which would be run by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), would allocate some political and administrative power to local indigenous communities, controlled by the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica), an organization regarded as representing the “indigenous left.”

The project’s proponents, reported to include 400 indigenous peoples of eight countries that make up the Amazon, say its goal would be to recover biomes altered by human action, allowing animals freedom to roam and local vegetation to develop in an area of about 500,000 square miles.

The project was accepted by former Colombian President Jose Manuel Santos but rejected by the socialist ex-President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, because it encompassed a great portion of the Brazilian territory without giving the country any guarantees. Brazil’s current right-of-center President Jair Bolsonaro also rejects the proposal on the grounds that it would take sovereignty away from countries by effectively placing the region under U.N. and NGO control.

The Vatican and the synod’s organizers appear to be sympathetic to the idea: Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, recently received Von Hildebrand at the Vatican to hear about the plans.

The Bolsonaro government has been concerned that the synod would promote the project, leading to Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the synod’s relator general, meeting members of the government to offer reassurance that no pronouncements would be made about sovereignty during the synod.

But this has not allayed fears that the Church and movements such as Von Hildebrand’s could move forward and be potentially damaging to the Church’s mission to the indigenous people.

Writing for the Brazil-based Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute, part of the Tradition, Family and Property movement, Julio Loredo de Izcue believes this so-called “indigenous current” is part of a “revolutionary” movement that not only threatens national sovereignty, but also aims to overthrow evangelization carried out by the Church over centuries.

This is being promoted, he argues, by the idea that it is not the indigenous tribes that need to be converted, but Catholics, something witnessed by the heavy emphasis on listening during the synod and a paucity of criticism of indigenous culture. De Izcue is the president of the Italian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.

Others, such as Brazilian ecologist Evaristo Miranda, the head of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, see a danger in this “indigenous current” being driven by “apocalyptic tones.”

Miranda has said those pushing this movement do not understand “the concept of sustainable development,” and “only foresee environmental catastrophes without caring for the data coming from scientific research.” He has also reportedly voiced concern that the changes proposed would practically freeze development in the Amazonian region of Brazil.

Yet such views have hardly been heard at the synod. For many of those taking part in this month’s synod and living in the Amazon region, the urgency to deal with environmental destruction and the threat of climate change is an overriding priority. This has been especially true during press briefings, and synod sources say the environmental issue has received the most consensus in the synod — so much so that it has received only a brief mention in the draft final document.

On Tuesday, Bishop Karel Martinus Choennie of Paramaribo, Suriname, argued that education is vital, especially as the “average person in Europe, America and China” does not “realize the urgency of the problem,” and that even when they do realize it, “they’re not willing to give up their lifestyle.”

He said the Amazon rainforest is “disappearing because Europe, China and rest of the rich world want to eat meat” (many acres of forest have been stripped to make way for cattle rearing). “If we don’t want to have a more sober life, we’ll continue to want cheaper meat and that will result in greater deforestation, so the Church and everyone has an obligation to introduce education that takes ecological change very seriously,” Bishop Choennie said.  

He spoke of the need to create a “solidarity fund” to help ensure fair and just use of natural resources, and that governments of the Amazon need to be offered “real solutions” so they change policies on “mining and deforestation.”

“Climate change is affecting everyone,” he asserted, adding that “Europe wants the Amazonian people to preserve the forest but they don’t want to change lifestyles, and that’s a big contradiction.”

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