Statement of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., on Querida Amazonia


Statement of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., on Querida Amazonia, the Post-Synodal Exhortation of Pope Francis

During my years of service to my religious community, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), I had the privilege of visiting with missionaries in more than 70 different countries throughout the world. What I learned in the process was that every missionary is called to 1) love the people he or she serves, 2) respect their traditions, customs and life experiences, 3) help build up local communities and reject all efforts to exploit their natural resources, and 4) be the face of Jesus incarnate in their midst. Where missionaries are able to accomplish these objectives, their ministry flourishes, seeds are planted and communities survive and grow even in the face of enormous obstacles.

After many months of prayer, attentive listening and careful reflection on the discussions of the Special Synod of Bishops held in Rome from October 6-27, 2019, on the challenges and opportunities posed by ministering with the peoples of the Amazon region, Pope Francis has reaffirmed these four essential elements of missionary discipleship. He has called our attention to the Gospel imperative to share the light of Christ with all peoples the world over including our beloved sisters and brothers in Amazonia.

As Pope Francis reminds us, “The Amazon region is a multinational and interconnected whole, a great biome shared by nine countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela and the territory of French Guiana. Yet I am addressing the present Exhortation to the whole world. I am doing so to help awaken their affection and concern for that land which is also ‘ours,’ and to invite them to value it and acknowledge it as a sacred mystery.”

The “great biome,” which is the Amazon region, is “ours,” the pope tells us. But it is not ours in any exclusive or proprietary way. First and foremost it belongs to the peoples who are native to this region. Their sad history of displacement, exploitation and abuse cries out to the whole world. Our response must be one of compassionate solidarity, and we must commit ourselves to walking with our brothers and sisters as they work to preserve the natural beauty of the region and, wherever possible, to restore the riches that are threatened by gravely mistaken ideas of economic and cultural “progress.”

The Holy Father recommends to us all the Final Document of the Special Assembly of Bishops for the Pan Amazon Region last October, The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology. Here we will find robust discussions about the Church’s responsibilities and the different possible approaches (some controversial) toward effective ministry among the peoples of the region.

Pope Francis’s objective is broader, and deeper, than the media reports and expert commentary suggests. He asks all of us to be missionary disciples who 1) love these brothers and sisters of ours, 2) respect their human dignity, 3) care for our common home as stewards of God’s creation, and 4) be the face of Christ incarnate in our people, our institutions and in our commitment to proclaim Gospel joy.

As a missionary, and as a bishop, I welcome the wisdom, passion and zeal that Pope Francis shares with the whole world, and each of us, in Querida Amazonia. I have visited areas of Amazonia a number of times since 1985, witnessing the stunning beauty and tragic injustice that the Holy Father treats so thoroughly in this exhortation.

May this beautiful and challenging exhortation from our Holy Father compel all people of good will the world over to see the people of the Amazon, to hear the cry of the poor and marginalized—there and everywhere, and to act justly and lovingly to care for them and for our common home.

(archdiocese of Newark)