By Fr. Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, S.J.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” –John 10:7-10
A synod on the Amazon could not logically ignore the Church of Africa and especially that of the Congo Basin, which covers just over 4 million square kilometers over 14 countries.
The Holy Father drew attention to these two lungs of the planet in his encyclical Laudato Si: “ ... These lungs of the planet full of biodiversity that are the Amazon and the basin of the Congo River …, we do not ignore the importance of these places for the whole planet and for the future of humanity” (LS #38).
As in the Amazon region, the Congo Basin is increasingly exposed to the international market and to large mining and forestry companies. Competition for access to the region’s mineral resources causes political destabilization, conflicts and wars. The wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan are essentially conflicts over the control of minerals. Apart from ecological challenges, this is one of the challenges facing the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin forest (REBAC).
The Church of Africa also faces other challenges: deforestation, expanding deserts, the shrinking of Lake Chad, forced migration and an exploding population of people needing food, energy, housing and employment. The African continent also is the least prepared for the effects of climate change.
The Synod on the Amazon was a “Kairos” moment for the Church of Africa.
It called on the Church to develop pastoral ministry as a “guardian of God’s work” and to defend the victims of destructive industries. “Today we must train pastoral agents and ordained ministries with socio-environmental sensitivity,” the Synod’s final document recommends.
This ecological pastoral care will require a renewal of ministry in the Church and a dedication to ecological questions. The Synod on the Amazon has also challenged the theology of creation and redemption. It has envisaged the recognition by the Church of “ecological sin,” which is a sin against future generations manifest in the pollution and destruction of our environment’s harmony.
To achieve ecological conversion, the Church must strengthen its teaching that “planet earth is a gift from God.” This gift is not done once and for all. The faithful are called not only to take care of the planet but also to answer for it, because it is mainly human activity that endangers our “common home.”
Ecological conversion requires that promotion and respect of human rights, both individual and collective, no longer be optional for the Church. Defending the rights of victims is a political duty, social task and requirement of faith.
We can all take action in this conversion process. These acts can start with planting flowers and trees or changing personal eating habits, and move to reducing dependence on fossil fuels, decreasing consumption and adopting simpler lifestyles. ▪
About the Author
Fr. Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, S.J., is the Jesuit social ministry coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. He also is coordinator of the ecclesial network of the Congo basin forest (REBAC).