In 2017, when Pope Francis called for a regional synod on the Amazonian region to take place at the Vatican, it surprised many Catholics. The Amazon invokes images of dense jungle pierced by its namesake river. The region is much more than that. Five times the size of Alaska, it has a population of 31 million, of which 3 million are indigenous peoples. It is undergoing a rapid, some say ominous, transition, as small-scale farmers, corporate ranchers and miners clear the land and often come in conflict with local tribes. The region is plagued by widespread environmental damage as well as military strife, drug trade and human trafficking.
Binding the region together is the presence of the church. Its missionaries and pastoral workers, priests and men and women religious, sometimes at great risk, have ministered to the indigenous peoples as well as the settlers and farmers. In the sprawling shantytowns and in the villages, the church struggles to accompany the people of the Amazon.
Catholic News Service over the past several months has reported extensively from the Amazon, helping Catholics to understand both its spectacular diversity and the threats that endanger it. In preparation for the Oct. 6-27 synod, here are some stories highlighting the region.