Pope Francis’s Amazon declaration is a challenge for the New Zealand Catholic Church to look at what has happened in this country since colonisation and find new paths forward, says Bishop of Hamilton Steve Lowe, secretary of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference.
“What he says of the Amazon can be true for us in Aotearoa New Zealand,” Bishop Lowe says of the document Querida Amazonia, an apostolic exhortation Pope Francis issued on 12 February in response to the Synod of Bishops from the Amazon region held in Rome last October.
Bishop Lowe noted that the New Zealand bishops met Pope Francis the day after the Synod ended – they were in Rome for their Ad Limina visit.
“In our conversation with Pope Francis we easily made the connection between the issues raised by the Synod and the arrival of Pākehā in Aotearoa New Zealand and the impact this had on Māori and on the whenua, the land,” Bishop Lowe said.
In Querida Amazonia, the Pope wrote that the original peoples of the Amazon often witnessed helplessly the destruc¬tion of the natural surroundings that enabled them to be nourished, kept healthy, survive and meaningfully preserve their way of life. The power imbalance was enormous; the weak had no means of defending themselves, while the winners took all.
“What the Pope wrote of the Amazon today might have been written of Aotearoa New Zealand from the mid-1800s to this day,” Bishop Lowe says in a written Reflection on the Pope’s Amazon document.
“For us in Aotearoa New Zealand, Querida Amazonia offers us an opportunity to reflect on what has happened in our own land and to consider new paths for the future, reflecting with Māori on the sacred taonga that are our land, our rivers and lakes, our mountains and sea, and most importantly, the tangata, our people.
“Often today there can be criticism of how the Gospel was announced to indigenous peoples by colonial powers, and the Holy Father apologises again for the Church’s sins of the past in the Amazon.
“In our local Church, Bishop Pompallier [the first Catholic Bishop of New Zealand, who served from 1838 to 1868] was a master at bridging the gap between Māori spirituality and Catholic theology and spirituality. This enabled the tupuna of many of our Māori community to accept the Catholic faith. But Pope Francis reminds us this needs to be an ongoing process in the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand.
“We are invited to live out Pope Francis’ dream of a Church that stands with the poor, that embraces the cultural riches of Māori as a taonga that can give a distinctively Kiwi face to the local Church in the wider universal Church,” Bishop Lowe wrote.
Photo: Pope Francis meets with Indigenous Community of Amazonia at the Vatican, October 17, 2019 (Credit: Vatican Media, Reuters).
- Bishop Steve Lowe's Reflection as a PDF
- The Querida Amazonia Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis as a Vatican Press Office link, or as a PDF.