Several days before my trip to the Amazon in the first half of November, Friar Erick G. MARÍN CARBALLO, OFM Conv., asked what I would like to see during my visit. My response was simple. I told him, “I am in your hands; I want to live as you live and experience what you experience.”
Shortly after my arrival, Pope Francis gave a talk at the Vatican to a network of pharmacists. His thoughts turned to the Amazon and how his hope for his encyclical Laudato Si’ was to invite all people to decide to foster a Culture of Care. The Pope went on to share how through caring we can all play our own part and contribute to creating a growing economy centered on the person and the common good. This Culture of Care is exactly what Friar Erick showed me during my visit.
Erick is halfway through a two-year experience of being part of a team of itinerant missionary disciples in the Amazon. In the final document of the Synod on the Amazon, we hear that, “Being a missionary disciple is more than just carrying out tasks or doing things. It is in the order of being.” The document goes on to quote Pope Francis, saying, “In this way Jesus pointed out to us, his disciples, that our mission in the world cannot be static, but is itinerant. The Christian is itinerant” [Pope Francis, Angelus, 30/6/2019] (no. 21). I found Erick’s life to be anything but static. With his team members, in small groups of two or three, they traverse the Amazon, meeting with the diverse communities they encounter, including indigenous peoples, river dwellers and those marginalized in the city, to listen and learn.
When I arrived, Erick had just returned to their base in Manaus after one month visiting communities in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. He shared with me that one of the most important things he heard during that trip was how the problems of the people need to be made visible. Erick went on to explain how people are lacking water and their lives are being threatened by the interests of those who see everything in terms of merchandise. Even amid these difficulties, the communities rely on their spirituality, which sustains them even in the hardest situations.
All the members of Erick’s team are also connected with REPAM (a Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network that has created a development model that privileges the poor and serves the common good). I was fortunate to be able to be present for part of a two-day gathering of REPAM. I witnessed firsthand how the raw data of stories and needs are gathered by the itinerant team, and then brought to REPAM to see how they all might best care for the indigenous communities. In the case of Erick’s most recent trip, they discussed how they might help make the problems concerning water more visible.
This Culture of Care is at the heart of REPAM as they assist with everything, from defending human rights, to building an infrastructure for sanitary and medical needs, to fostering the growth of organic farms and new ways of fishing that are sustainable for the communities. Speaking about the importance of the work of REPAM, Erick explained to me how it is a network that helps connect the nine different countries that make up the Amazon Forest. Erick went on to say, “With REPAM we see ourselves as a territory without borders. While we are small, it is only by working together that we can approach challenges such as Integral Ecology and human rights. As a part of a larger network, we all better understand our responsibility towards one another. The good or bad that happens in one of the countries, has an impact on the other regions.”
What I found personally moving was Erick’s speaking in the plural “we.” As a missionary disciple, he has come to understand what “being” means in the context of the Amazon. His keen ability to listen, participate, and share, has led to his becoming an Amazonian in less than a year of caring from within the region, caring for God’s creatures great and small.
In the next part of my Amazonian Adventure, Erick and I take a three-day boat ride into the interior.
Friar Michael LASKY, General Delegate for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation