Bishops in Amazon establish new ecclesial conference

Peruvian Bishop David Martinez of Puerto Maldonado is pictured in a file photo. Bishop Martinez is vice president of the new Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon, founded June 29, 2020. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn.

LIMA, Peru (CNS) — Eight months after Amazonian church leaders met in Rome to discuss pastoral challenges, a new Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon was founded June 29 to carry on the synod’s work.

The new conference includes representing the nine Amazonian countries, as well as representatives of the Latin American Conference of Religious, or CLAR; the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, or REPAM; and the Latin American and Caribbean arm of Caritas, the international Catholic Church humanitarian aid and development agency.

Three indigenous people — one of them a religious sister — and three representatives of Vatican offices are also members of the conference, which was announced at the end of a four-day virtual assembly.

The conference aims “to bring to fruition the dreams that Pope Francis laid out in ‘Querida Amazonia,'” the postsynodal papal exhortation issued in February, Bishop David Martinez of Puerto Maldonado, Peru, told Catholic News Service.

In the document, the pope wrote that he dreams of a church that fights for the rights of the poor, preserves its cultural riches and natural beauty, and is made up of committed Christian communities that give it an Amazonian face.

That is a call to conversion that the new ecclesial conference must bring down to earth, Bishop Martinez said.

The body is part of the Latin American bishops’ council, known as CELAM, but has its own leadership and is autonomous. Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes is president and Bishop Martinez is vice president.

“What is clear is that it is an ecclesial conference of the entire people of God,” reflecting the synod held at the Vatican in October 2019, which included bishops, laypeople, priests, brothers and sisters, Bishop Martinez said.

It is connected with the rest of the Latin American church and with the Vatican, although details of its relationship the national conferences of bishops in six countries and the Antilles Episcopal Conference, which includes Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname, must still be worked out, he said.

The conference will continue working on issues raised at the synod, where participants discussed pastoral work among indigenous peoples, threats to the environment, new forms of ministry and an Amazonian liturgical rite.

“For the incarnation of the church in the Amazon, it is understood that there is a different reality, a diverse reality. An ecclesial structure was needed that could embrace the specific reforms of the church for the Amazon,” he said. “That does not mean it will operate outside of or without communion with the rest of the universal church.”

The creation of the new ecclesial conference, announced on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, comes as the coronavirus pandemic is taking a severe toll in the Amazon region, where more than 400,000 cases have been reported and more than 13,000 people have died, according to a REPAM tally based on official information from the countries.

In Amazonian areas where weak health care systems are overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, or where indigenous communities have little or no access to care, vicariates and church organizations have taken up collections to provide medicine, oxygen, protective equipment and other assistance.

“The church continues to walk with the communities, accompanying and suffering with them,” Bishop Martinez said of the pandemic. “It affects us because we are (a) church that lives among the people. Whatever affects the people affects the church.”