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Letter to the Pope: The Amazon is a Catholic responsibility

July 23, 2013:

In an unprecedented move, WWF International, WWF Brazil, and ARC have jointly written to His Holiness the Pope asking him during his first ever international visit – to Rio for the World Youth Day – to consider announcing that the Amazon should be seen as a specifically Catholic ecological responsibility.

The letter was personally delivered to His Holiness by both the Vatican Council for the Laity – who are organising the event – and the head of the Franciscans, in honour of Pope Francis’ chosen papal name.

Link here for the pdf version or read it as text at the end of this article.

Some two to three million Catholics from around the world, including Pope Francis I, are congregating in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro today for World Youth Day in what could be this great pilgrim event’s most ecologically aware meeting ever.

With the election and arrival of the first Latin American Pope, in his first overseas visit since he was elected, this event has gained even greater significance: the Pope’s arrival yesterday drew massive and excited crowds.

ARC’s role has been to liaise with the Vatican while our partners, WWF (through WWF International, WWF-UK, WWF-US and WWF-Brasil and the Sacred Earth Programme) have liaised with the Catholic Church in Brazil.

The result has been that we produced a short version of the Green Pilgrimage Network handbook for use at all Catholic pilgrimage events, and this has been translated from English into Portuguese and Spanish. It suggests many actions, both large and small, including transport choices, simple food and environmental messages, that can be taken to ensure that pilgrims are a blessing to the earth wherever they travel.

It has been sent by us and the Vatican to the Rio Organising Committee, while WWF US took copies to a meeting with the Rio Organising Committee, for them to model the event upon.

Between two and three million young pilgrims are expected, so this could be a significant contribution.

The Amazon River: A Catholic Responsibility. PHOTO: Chris Walts
WWF produced a short video to be shown during the final Papal Mass – a unique opportunity to get the message of the Catholic role in conservation across to a large number of people.

World Youth Day started in Rome in 1986, and is held every two or three years at different international locations. . In 2011 it was held in Madrid, and in 2008 in Sydney. It is a time for celebrating the role, energy and future of young people, and for many young people attending, it changes their lives. World Youth Day 2013 runs from July 23 to July 28.


Letter to His Holiness (pdf)
Green Pilgrimage Network
Catholic GPN handbook in English,
and Portuguese
WWF Press Release
WWF Sacred Earth Programme

Letter to His Holiness The Pope from ARC, WWF-International and WWF-Brazil

Your Holiness,

We, WWF and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, thank you for your leadership and wisdom in teaching that we should protect those in the most need, as well as your messages about the importance of nature. The two great missionary texts of the Gospels in Matthew 28:18 - 20 and John 3: 16 - 17 put our concern for nature within its widest context. The mission to the disciples to go and teach every nation is complemented by the statement in John 3:16 that God so loved the whole cosmos - the entire world, He sent His only begotten Son. As Matthew 28: 18 says, Jesus is then given authority over all on earth and in heaven - the whole cosmos. This is why we approach you today with confidence.

Your Holiness, we trust that as a son of South America, you know first-hand that it is a continent rich in biodiversity and natural resources, and yet plagued with many social problems and development needs. We trust that you believe it is a continent where a new sustainable development model can be achieved and be an example for the world. We offer our services to you and the Catholic Church towards such a vision. As you come to the great event of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro this July, WWF and ARC are honoured to be working with the Vatican through the kind offices of Father Eric Jacquinet, the Catholic Church in Brazil, and with religious orders such as the Benedictines, Franciscans, and the Jesuits in promoting environmental protection and sustainable stewardship at the event.

The Amazon is a region where God’s love for life sings from all corners. It is a vast region that spans across Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. There are over 500 million hectares of dense forests, teeming with life and over 6500 kilometres of life-giving rivers. Home to 33 million people, the Amazon provides its resources for all peoples of the region to thrive upon. The Amazon is also crucial in providing ecosystem services locally and across South America, including the regulation of rainfall (the basis for food production in the southern parts of the continent), biodiversity for pharmaceuticals, and many industries. There is a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the Earth. The Amazon rainforests, which contain 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, help stabilize local and global climates. Today, however, rampant deforestation and river destruction are leading us to catastrophic climatic consequences and food insecurity in the region and around the world.

Your Holiness, as St. Paul says in Romans 8: 18 - 25, creation is crying out in agony because of human neglect. We appeal to you to include a special Message in your teaching during the Rio World Youth Day calling for young Catholics to help turn the tide of destruction in the Amazon, erosion of the ecology, and poverty which is the main result for the poor and indigenous peoples of the Amazon, who are least able to bear the consequences of ecological destruction. If you, the one who is the leading light for one billion people around the world, would raise this issue, we believe that it would have a profound impact on how people perceive and care for the Amazon. The future of the Amazon and the message of compassion and care that your statements or prayers for its wellbeing would evoke will be of historic importance.

We hope this action would be the first of many in the spirit of collaboration to build a vision for the future of the Amazon, with the Amazon peoples and beyond. We, WWF and ARC stand ready to be of service to Your Holiness at any time and we are grateful for the wonderful help and support we have in our partnership with the Franciscans through Father Eric, we are delighted to be sending you this humble suggestion.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Leape Director General WWF International

Martin Palmer Secretary General, The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC)

Maria Cecília Wey de Brito Chair, WWF Living Amazon Initiative CEO, WWF Brazil

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