By Bradley Brooks
Pope Francis took on the defense of the Amazon and the environment near the end of his weeklong trip to Brazil, as he donned a colorful Indian headdress Saturday and urged that the rainforest be treated as a garden.
The pontiff met with a few thousand of Brazil’s political, business and cultural elite in Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theater, where he also shook hands with Indians who said they were from a tribe that has been battling ranchers and farmers trying to invade their land in northeastern Bahia state.
In a separate speech to bishops, the pope called for “respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited but rather made into a garden.”
He also urged attention to a 2007 document by Latin American and Caribbean bishops that he was in charge of drafting, which underscored dangers facing the Amazon environment and the native people living there. The document also called for new evangelization efforts to halt a steep decline in Catholics leaving for other faiths or secularism.
“The traditional communities have been practically excluded from decisions on the wealth of biodiversity and nature. Nature has been, and continues to be, assaulted,” the document reads.
Several of the indigenous people in the audience hailed from the Amazon and said they hoped the pope would help them protect land designated by the government as indigenous reserves but that farmers and ranchers illegally invade for timber and to graze cattle. In fact, grazing has been the top recent cause of deforestation in Brazil.
“We got credentials for his speech and attended so we could tell the pope what’s happening to our people,” said Levi Xerente, a 22-year-old member of the Xerente tribe in Tocantins state in the Amazon, after he attended the pope’s speech. “We hope that he will help intervene with the government and stop all the big public works projects that are happening in the region.”