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The Amazon Comes to Rome

Pope Francis Thinks the Church Should Learn From Native Peoples—But Will His Opponents Listen?

Pope Francis arrives at a session of the Synod on the Amazon, Vatican City, October 2019 Stefano Dal Pozzolo / Contrasto / ​Redux

For three weeks in October, hundreds of Catholic bishops and priests mostly from the countries of the Amazon River basin convened at a special synod at the Holy See. The meeting signaled Pope Francis’s deep concern for the indigenous peoples of the South American rainforest. In his own words, the pope sought “drastic measures” to avert further harm to these communities. “Every kind of injustice and destruction,” he said, “has been practiced upon these people.” Francis knew this synod would upset some traditional believers who have little patience for his moral investment in the protection of indigenous groups. Although his opponents created audacious distractions, the pope persevered in advancing an agenda that facilitates concrete gains for officials, activists, and community leaders dedicated to saving the Amazon.

The pope has significant cause for alarm. In Brazil, an 80 percent increase in fires this year has led to the greatest deforestation of

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