A Yanomami Indian stands near an illegal gold mine during a Brazilian government operation against illegal gold mining on Indigenous land in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. CNS photo/Bruno Kelly, Reuters

‘Hear the cry of the Earth’

By  Josianne Gauthier, Catholic Register Special
  • November 7, 2019

Canadian Josianne Gauthier is General Secretary of CIDSE, an international network  of Catholic social justice organizations, and was one of the delegates to last month’s Synod on Pan-Amazon Region. Here is what she told the Synod in an address:

I am very grateful for being here, for having a voice, for having the opportunity to share this very important moment in the history of our Church. This Synod of the Amazon seeks to find new pathways for integral ecology, and these pathways are already being forged by the presence and participation of a greater diversity of voices. We are already changing together. This must be celebrated. 

When the Indigenous people of my country begin to speak, they first name their clan and who their parents were. This way, we know who is speaking. I am Josianne, daughter of Paul and Sandralee, a Canadian, a lawyer, a Catholic, a lay woman, a mother of three children and also a byproduct of colonialism. 

My ancestors left Europe to settle in Canada, fleeing hunger and war and looking for a better life. This was the respectable narrative of courageous migration which was our family’s story. I was raised with good values, but I was never taught what it meant to be the coloniser. I did not learn until much, much later, how to reconcile my good life with the suffering, the discrimination, indifference and systemic injustice towards the Indigenous people in my own country. 

I did not know. I did not see. I did not wish to see. But then, slowly, I learned and began to unlearn all that I thought I knew about my country and about colonialism.

Colonisalism is not just a dark chapter in European and world history, or in the history of the Catholic Church. It is ever present. It is present in the economic model that seeks growth and profit above life and dignity, in the systems of injustice which perpetuate inequality, racism, sexism and violence. It is present in the extractivist economies that we are so dependent on, for our agriculture, for our transportation, to satisfy our insatiable consumption and production which is now destroying our planet and threatening the lives of those who try to protect the Earth.

Colonialism is in our politics, in the way certain countries allow industry to pillage the natural resources and cede to the interests of the few over the well-being of the many. It is at the very heart of our daily lives, our comfortable, western, northern standard of living. We live well, far too well, and it is at the direct expense of our Earth and of our brothers and sisters in far away regions — such as the Amazon.

I know that all that I have was not earned, but stolen, and this is a profound sin and injustice. So what do I do when I realize I have privilege, power, an unfair advantage in life? And I am a woman, so imagine my brothers!

We have a shared responsibility for our common home. We must act. It is time for conversion, reconciliation and reparation. It is time for solidarity and it is time for justice.

We first need to hear — truly hear — the cry of the Earth and of our sisters and brothers in the Amazon. We need to acknowledge and recognize how we directly impact on life in the Amazon as well as recognize how vital the Amazon is to life for all of us. 

In Article 146 of the Instrumentum Laboris, we have clear suggestions on what we must and can do together. We already have our work plan.

We must denounce extractivist models and raise our voice against projects that destroy life. We must also promote and share the wisdom and knowledge of another way of living, in closer harmony with creation, in rhythm with the land, consuming less, producing less and wasting less. 

Finally, we must also listen to the youth in the streets who are so disappointed with us right now and demanding that we take urgent measures to turn things around. They remind us that this is also a matter of intergenerational justice. We are already indebted to them.  If we continue on this path what will be left of the Earth for our children?

My parents taught me that to be a Catholic was to always stand up for justice, always defend those who are excluded or are being mistreated. I also try to teach this to my own children. The current situation in the world is full of injustice and the urgency of the ecological crisis we are facing is terrifying.

We might be afraid of the future, and even more afraid of the change that is needed to face these challenges, but we cannot act out of fear. 

Instead, I believe we should always act out of love — love for our children, love for our brothers and sisters, love for our mother Earth. It is only when we truly care that we can have courage. 

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