Amazon forest Amazon forest 

Indigenous leader: Pope Francis helps us protect our lands

In an interview with Vatican News, Shaman Davi Kopenawa, the leader of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon, who met with Pope Francis before Wednesday's General Audience, discusses the "calamitous" situation of the lands being besieged, without scruples, by extractive activities.

By Antonella Palermo

"I am not afraid of the white man, but I am very afraid of the machines that destroy the earth and bring down the trees and create ditches in the soil to extract minerals. I am afraid that this extractive activity will ruin our communities, rivers, health, our survival, and our own riches. I am worried about our future; the next generations will need the forest." 

With this frankness, Mr. Davi Kopenawa, Shaman and representative of the Yanomami people of Brazil, spoke to Vatican Media after the April 10 General Audience

Their private meeting, April 10, with Pope Francis, took place in the study of the Paul VI Hall, before the audience.

The invocation of the Pope's help for the protection of the Amazon

"I knew it was very important for me and for the cause of my people to speak with Pope Francis," he noted.

"I was received very well, with respect," he added, explaining that he presented to the Pope the "calamitous" situation in which indigenous communities of the Amazon have been living for too long, a situation which, he says, has recently worsened a lot.

 "Although international protection of these territories has been recognized," he said, "they have been continuously invaded because the authorities allow it." He lamented that some authorities have even encouraged the phenomenon.

"I asked," he shared, "that the Pope please intercede with the President of the Republic of Brazil to convince him to withdraw the gold prospectors and other exploiters."

Lack of respect and love

"To solve these problems," Davi observed, "it is important to choose people who love the indigenous peoples and who know their reality thoroughly. 

"Local and national politicians do not allow the health of the Yanomami people to be safeguarded, and this also happens to other groups. Landowners, lumber traders do not allow our lands to be respected."

The forest cannot heal but it is urgent to keep it alive

Since the 1980s, Davi has been serving abroad as a spokesperson for the protection of indigenous rights and the preservation of the rainforest for the benefit of humanity. 

Awarded in the prestigious Right Livelihood Award in 1989, the alternative Nobel awarded to Survival International - the association he founded also to promote educational projects - for his "steadfast, consistent, and constant commitment" to the most threatened peoples of the earth, Kopenawa has been threatened with death by criminals colluding with illegal gold miners invading Yanomami territory. 

When asked whether the forest can heal, the indigenous leader responded, "No, the forest has already been deforested. Only God can heal it. People won't be able to." 

Brother Zacquini: an extraordinary gift to live with the Yanomami

The Yanomami people, who live on the border between Brazil and Venezuela, inspired the French ethnographer Bruce Albert to write about them and their way if seeing the world in "The Falling Sky" (Nottetempo, 2018).

In the work, the author portrays their genuine way of understanding the world, life, and human relationships, far from profit and convenience logics. 

This is what attracted Brother Carlo Zacquini, of the Consolata Missionaries, who has been in contact with this group since the late 1960s and has never left them. 

He is among those who accompanied Davi on his visits to Italy.

 "I wish I had as much faith as they do," he confides. 

"For me," he reflected," it has been an extraordinary gift to be with them. From the beginning, I was shocked by how they were treated." 

The religious had gone there for another purpose and then decided to stay. 

Their wisdom, he suggested, can be "a gift for the universal Church and for all peoples because it is made of spontaneity, deep trust, sense of community, and ability to overcome difficulties, which are not lacking."

Brother Carlo lamented that, although the local Church has taken giant steps by offering a great deal of guidance for the protection of this heritage of humanity, there is still much to be done for the Pope's wishes expressed in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation four years ago, "Querida Amazonia," to be put into practice.


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11 April 2024, 10:09