Archbishop Carlos Castillo Mattasoglio of Lima celebrates mass in the city’s cathedral on Feb. 13, 2022. (CNS/courtesy Archdiocese of Lima)
Iquitos, Peru — Oil spills on opposite sides of Peru — one near Lima, the coastal capital, and the other in a remote indigenous village in the Amazon — brought Catholics from both regions together for simultaneous Masses on February 13. .
They prayed for those suffering from the pollution caused by the two spills as they marked the second anniversary of Querida Amazoniathe papal exhortation issued by Pope Francis after the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.
The liturgies, accompanied by video messages exchanged by Bishop Miguel Angel Cadenas of Iquitos and Bishop Carlos Castillo Mattasoglio of Lima and broadcast at each of the Masses, were the first joint initiative of this type between the bishops of Lima and Amazonia.
In January, similar disasters hit both regions. A ship offloading oil on Jan. 15 at a coastal refinery spilled about 6,000 barrels of oil into the Pacific Ocean, fouling at least 30 miles of shoreline. On January 20, vandals cut an oil pipeline in a small Amazonian village, contaminating the river that people depend on for water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
At the end of the mass in Iquitos, Gilter Yuyarima described the impact of the oil spill on the people of Nueva Alianza, the village of Kukama and the Urarina people where he is a leader of the Catholic community.
Cleanup has been slow and heavy rains have caused the oil to spread through the forest and into the river which is the community’s water source, he said, adding that it is mothers and children who suffer the most.
The mass in Lima included the city’s indigenous residents and small-scale fishers who lost their livelihoods and an essential food source when the oil tanker spill polluted their fishing grounds. Several of them presented a net as an offering.
The two bishops noted that oil spills in their areas had the greatest impact on people whose lives were already precarious.
Bishop Miguel Angel Cadenas of Iquitos, Peru talks with Emilsen Flores (right) and Mari Luz Cañaquiri, leaders of a women’s organization from Kukama, after mass on February 13, 2022 in Iquitos. The model of the canoe was presented during the offertory. (CNS/Barbara Fraser)
In his homily, Bishop Castillo said, “We have a commitment – our city of Lima and our entire coast – to our Amazon region.”
Bishop Cadenas, in his message to Catholics in Lima, recalled that the Book of Genesis describes how God gave humans the responsibility to care for creation, adding, “We want to leave the planet to the next generation in at least the same state in which we inherited it.”
Bishop Cadenas has been outspoken on environmental issues for more than two decades, particularly after oil spills affected communities scattered along the Marañón River in the rural parish of Santa Rita, where he and Augustinian Father Manolo Berjon were pastors. They began to address environmental issues in parish workshops for leaders of Catholic communities in villages along the rivers.
In 2015, when the two moved to the outskirts of Iquitos, a city of around half a million people, they discovered a new set of urban problems. Their parish included large neighborhoods of houses built on stilts to raise them above seasonal floods, but without sewer or water service.
Fisher families affected by an oil spill in January on the Peruvian coast offer tools of their work during the offertory during mass on February 13, 2022, in the city’s cathedral. (CNS/courtesy Archdiocese of Lima)
Several neighborhoods were constantly flooded with sewage and waste from a nearby slaughterhouse and hospital. With the support of the vicariate, the neighborhood associations sued the government for public services, a case to be heard on February 18 in the National Constitutional Court of Peru.
The pair notably pursued cases that had implications beyond the local area, involving issues such as oil pollution, lack of public services and the right of indigenous communities to consultation on projects that would affect them, Bishop Cadenas told Catholic News Service.
Their work was inspired by their understanding of Christianity, he added, noting that environmental issues cannot be separated from health and basic rights.
Along the way, “we learned to have patience,” he said, as Father Berjon added, “a geological patience,” because of the slow progress, especially in business judicial.
An indigenous woman is among those praying in the cathedral of Lima, Peru, during mass on Feb. 13, 2022. (CNS/courtesy Archdiocese of Lima)
The fact that judges ruled in favor of local communities in cases involving oil spills and consultations over a controversial river dredging project convinced them that their efforts were worthwhile, despite resistance from government officials and even the terrorism charges, Bishop Cadenas said. Having a strong network of allies helped them through tough times.
“We learned to pray,” he added, “because there were very, very, very conflicting situations.”
Above all, adds Father Berjon, “we have learned that in one way or another, the reign of God is near”.
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