The new Pope Francis is living up to the speculation that a New World Pope would lead the Catholic Church in a more modern and moderate direction. Before famously commenting on the toleration of gay priests recently, the Vatican leader spent a week in Brazil, where he met with political leaders and cultural ambassadors of the country. During his time there, Pope Francis encouraged bishops to continue helping native Amazon people preserve their lands.
Pope Francis told the bishops to encourage “respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man… [it is not to be] indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden.”
Before his speech, the pope met with indigenous leaders representing the 33 million residents of the Amazon rain forest, which is larger than the western half of the United States. People there are constantly threatened by farmers looking to expand into area in spite of government protections. Cattle grazing is one of the main causes of deforestation today.
Pope Francis helped co-author a paper written by bishops in 2007 that highlighted the importance of the church’s presence in the region and the decline of natural resources. The document mentions that native residents do not get much say in what happens to the land, and that nature is continually destroyed. The church has a long history of promoting Catholicism in the region, sometimes even in danger. A nun named Dorothy Stanger was murdered in 2005 for advocating land rights.
During the visit, Rio de Janiero was hosting World Youth Day, which included several faith-based forums on conservation and climate change to help ignite environmental stewardship among Catholics and other religious communities.