Mark Silk on Pope Francis in the Jungle

Pope Francis greets indigenous representatives in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, on Jan. 19, 2018. Standing with thousands of indigenous Peruvians, Francis declared the Amazon the “heart of the church” and called for a threefold defense of its life, land and cultures. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


On a wall in my office kitchen hangs the poster for an exhibition of works by radical Argentine artist Ricardo Carpani that I bought in Buenos Aires 22 years ago. It reproduces one of Carpani’s “Porteños en la jungla” paintings, portraying hard-faced Buenos Airean men (porteños) pushing their way through the jungle with conquistador arms, a cross and a businessman’s briefcase.

The message has to do with the depredation of the natural world of South America by European capitalism, backed by the Catholic Church. That pretty well captures the way Argentina has treated the continent to which it ambivalently belongs.

Pope Francis, born in Buenos Aires in 1936, is a different kind of porteño. For him the jungle is a place of beauty and wonder, an expression of the richness of God’s creation, cultural as well as natural.

Nowhere is this vision clearer than in “Querida Amazonia,” the apostolic exhortation he issued a month ago to set his seal on October’s Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. “Querida” is Spanish for a female romantic partner or a married man’s other woman, and it’s more than tempting to imagine the pope, husband of the universal church, using the exhortation to signal his special relationship with “Mistress Amazon.”

“Popular poets,” he wrote in his exhortation, “enamored of its immense beauty, have tried to express the feelings this river evokes and the life that it bestows as it passes amid a dance of dolphins, anacondas, trees and canoes. Yet they also lament the dangers that menace it.”

Those dangers come above all from economic exploitation. “The powerful are never satisfied with the profits they make, and the resources of economic power greatly increase as a result of scientific and technological advances,” Francis declares. Quoting from his 2015 climate change encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” he calls for “a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems … otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics, but also freedom and justice.”

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Source: Religion News Service

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