Saturday, June 20, 2009

One Priest's Fight to Save the Rainforest

The Ecologist profiles the efforts of Father Edilberto Sena to save the Brazilian rainforest:

Father Edilberto Sena arrives at Rural Radio station and takes up his position behind the microphone. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his script for today’s show. One question is scribbled on it for the daily debate: ‘Why is this happening?’

Edilberto is a Roman Catholic priest and a follower of liberation theology - meaning not only does he believe in teaching the word of God, but believes that he has an absolute obligation to fight poverty and bring justice to the poor. So he takes up the microphone each week not to recite afternoon prayers to his 200,000 listeners, but to tell the people of Santarem, Northern Brazil, exactly why they are finding it so hard to grow crops and why the rainforest that once surrounded their city resembles a burnt desert.

Edilberto isn’t just referring to climate change. The Amazon rainforest is being torn down by agribusinesses which use the land to farm soya and export to European livestock farmers, feeding the growing demand for cheap meat. For ten years Father Edilberto has stood at the heart of Santarem’s campaign against the world’s leader in this trade, Cargill.

‘In Santarem people started to say, “why is it so much hotter?”. I tell people this is not God’s doing; this is happening because of the destruction of the rainforest.’

In the US, many of us have watched the rise of the religious right with a lot of consternation, and I think a lot of us have come to think that all religious people will have their political roots in right-wing ideology: the sort of fire-and-brimstone condemnation of gays, Muslims, immigrants, and all of the sort of foreign "others."

But we shouldn't forget that there is a brand of progressive Christianity -- the same kind that inspired reformers like Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- that is focused more around social justice: healing the sick, providing for the poor, protecting the planet. Liberation theology was born in the latter half of the 20th century and has been an enlightening left wing force in Latin America that has inspired many like Edilberto. It would be good for progressives -- secular and religious alike -- to remember that Christianity and progressive ideas need nought be opposing forces.

If you follow the link to The Ecologist, you'll find plenty of resources to get involved with the struggle to save the rainforest.