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Praxis Group Welcomes Amazonian Catholic Network

"The earth is screaming, and we need to save it."

On Thursday, Visitation welcomed leaders from REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, as part of an assembly planned by juniors Olivia R., Natalia G., and Brenda G. who have focused their theology Praxis project on the displacement of indigenous people in the Amazon. 

“We chose displacement as our focus for our project mostly because we wanted to not only bring attention to the harm that is affecting the fragile ecosystem that is the Amazon but to also bring attention to the people who live and thrive off of that ecosystem,” said Natalia. “The indigenous tribes that live in the Amazon are people as well and we wanted to emphasize how corporations are exploiting their homes and their livelihood in both the Amazon and denying them the ability to advocate for themselves, and many small foundations are helping them work towards that goal.”

REPAM is one of those organizations. “Its work includes amplifying the voices of Indigenous leaders protecting their land from mining, oil and gas exploration, and industrial agriculture that results in massive deforestation. The network also trains community leaders on their human and environmental rights, and accompanies them in presenting human rights cases before international venues such as the United Nations,” said Brenda in her introduction on the Nolan Center stage.

Visitation was honored that the Vice President of REPAM, Bishop David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea, joined his colleagues Brother Joao Gutemberg, Rodrigo Fadul, and Carol Jeri Pezo for their presentation. 

Sister Marianne Comfort, of the Sisters of Mercy, connected the girls with REPAM after the students interviewed her for their Praxis project; REPAM would be in DC this spring, and perhaps the girls could learn more from them. Sister Marianne joined the group on stage.

“They were extremely kind and very helpful through the planning process. As the date to the panel got closer, I personally got really excited. I was enthusiastic to learn about their work and to be able to share this with others. We definitely did not expect such a big outcome, but my group and I, and the guest speakers were so excited when we saw the large turnout. They said numerous valuable things that are definitely worth hearing,” said Brenda, who was joyful to put her Spanish skills to use (it is her first language) in greeting the group.

With the help of an interpreter, REPAM representatives shared in Spanish, then English, about their work.

“We have come from the Amazon church, and we live there with the people and share their reality,” said Bishop Martínez. “I hope we will all put the Amazon in our hearts. There are many parts of the world where there is much poverty, and difficulty, and we need to pay attention.”

He called attention to how living in the Amazon has changed his worldview. “We see our humanity differently and realize another world is possible. It teaches us to take a look at the forest and the biodiversity there,” he said. “The deforestation is affecting not just the Amazon, but the globe,” noting that the rainforest acts as a cooling system for the earth.

Human rights lawyer Pezo shared, “When I was in high school like you, I never imagined I would be working with indigenous rights.” She asked students to think of women’s greatest achievements - the right to vote in the US, that all girls can go to school in the US, etc. - and how long it took to achieve those things. The women of the Amazon, she said, are fighting for basic needs like food, water, healthcare. 

“I invite you to ask yourselves, what can you do? How can you as a woman help empower other women?” Pezo asked.

Adjunct Secretary Fadul spoke of how they support indigenous youth in the city, who have left their homes to seek out a different life. “In the village, they have everything, but they don’t have this in the city because they need money to buy things, and so it is very hard and they struggle to live with dignity,” he said. “Our job is to support them as people and, as Christians, we are called to do this.”

Brother Gutemberg, Executive Secretary, educated students on the geography and population of the Amazon. He reminded students, “We were so happy when we got here because we saw paradise. It is beautiful to see a school in the middle of nature, to see the trees and the grass. How many young people in the world have the opportunity you have? … This is a blessed place.”

He spoke to deforestation and the impact on the indigenous people of the Amazon. “The earth is screaming, and we need to save it,” Gutemberg said. 

Olivia asked the group what students could do, locally, to help.

“I will always remember how Bishop David Martinez de Aguirre Guinea answered Olivia’s excellent question, in addition to prayer, what can we do here and now to help the Amazon?” said Elizabeth Silver, history teacher, who connected the Praxis group with the Sisters of Mercy. “He said first, we can learn. We can see the Amazon, and its people, and what’s happening there. And second, that we can transform our hearts to put the Amazon and its people in our hearts, so that when we see stories about the Amazon and the people of the Amazon, we know and love them.”