July 20, 2006
We have, with the grace of God, arrived at the end of our symposium on the Amazon, which has at once been a pilgrimage, a time of learning and reflection, and an opportunity for joyful fellowship with our Brazilian hosts, to whom we express our profound appreciation for their warmth, generosity and openness of heart.
From the national and state authorities as well as the religious leadership of this country, we have received gracious hospitality and enormous practical support, for which we offer sincere thanks. In the local communities, which we visited, we were warmly welcomed and deeply touched. In our unique encounter with the indigenous peoples of this region, we witnessed and felt their profound sense of the sacredness of creation and of the bonds, which exist between all living things and people. Thanks to them, we understand more deeply that, as creatures of God, we are all in the same boat: “estamos no mesmo barco!”
We have listened to some of the most intelligent thinkers in Brazil explaining to us their hopes and concerns for their country and the world. Furthermore, through the wisdom of the indigenous peoples, we have been reminded of our obligation toward future generations.
Among the blessings we have enjoyed in Brazil is a new understanding of the ancient images, which our faith uses to describe the delicate relationship between God, man, and creation. Let us reflect briefly on two of these images, namely fire and water. Our faith was born in a region where water is often desperately scarce and where fire spreads easily. In our Mediterranean homeland, it comes naturally to represent the soul’s need for communion with God as a longing for water: “My soul thirsts for Thee like a dry and thirsty land” (Ps. 142:6). Elsewhere in Scripture, water is used as a symbol of God’s judgment. This is most obvious in the story of the Noah and the Flood (Gen. 6-8). Fire, too, is an element, which in some places describes God’s judgment and in others refers to God’s greatest gifts, including the gift of the Holy Spirit as it is revealed at Pentecost (Acts 2:1).
These images speak to us powerfully here in the heart of the Amazon, although the natural environment differs greatly from our homeland. We are in a place where water seems abundant and where fire is difficult to spread, at least in places where the forest has remained in its natural state. Nevertheless, we have been informed by Brazilian scientists that this long-established equilibrium may be changing, with fearful consequences. The forest is becoming drier and easier to burn, and the effects of this – so we have been told – may be felt throughout the world, increasing the frequency of extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes and floods. But all is not lost. In visiting local communities nearby, we have observed an environment where water and the natural elements, including fire, can still be experienced as blessings from God.
If, by the grace of God, we are able to proceed with our plan for a symposium in the Arctic next year, then we shall see for ourselves how melting snow and rising sea levels could directly threaten the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. Yet the connections we have studied between different parts of the world can also work in a positive way. Continued protection of the river and rainforest, so well preserved in the state of Amazonas, will surely have beneficial effects for the whole earth.
If we are to have any hope of breaking the vicious circle of global environmental destruction, then we shall need an effort, which is ecumenical in the best sense of the word, involving people across religions, races and continents. In particular, it must embrace leaders and thinkers across disciplines, ranging from theology and religion to biology and economics. We have been blessed during this symposium by a remarkable meeting of minds, through which religion and science were able to share the same language and concerns.
At the mouth of this great Amazon River, there is a city called Belem, a name which ultimately derives from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. At Christmas time, the Orthodox Church sings of the Tree of Life, the tree, which stands for perfect communion between God and man, growing anew from the place where Jesus was born. The Tree of Life can only grow in conditions where there is neither too much nor too little water. These conditions were granted to us by God but may be so easily destroyed by man. Our fervent prayer is that humanity may walk humbly before our Creator, acknowledging our common origins and destiny with all of created nature. Then, there will be hope for the Tree of Life to blossom for the life of the world and to the glory of God.
Muito obrigado. God bless you all.