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Indigenous Amazon leader asks Pope to defend his people

Davi Kopenawa, an indigenous leader of the Amazonian Yanomami people who met with Pope Francis on April 10, 2024

Isabella H. de Carvalho / I.MEDIA

I.Media - published on 04/11/24

Davi Kopenawa, an indigenous leader of the Amazonian Yanomami people, met with the Pope to ask him for support in defending his people and land.

Shortly before the general audience on April 10, 2024, Pope Francis met with Davi Kopenawa, an indigenous leader of the Amazonian Yanomami people. The leader met with the Argentine Pontiff to plead the cause of his people, who have been victims of illegal gold miners who have proliferated in Brazil in recent years.

Davi Kopenawa, an indigenous leader of the Amazonian Yanomami people who met with Pope Francis on April 10, 2024

“I wanted to meet an authority; [the Pope] is a respected person,” said the 68-year-old leader and shaman in an interview with I.MEDIA.

Davi Kopenawa had already exchanged letters with Pope Francis in 2020, via a Catholic missionary.

“I was moved,” he said. Kopenawa has received various international awards for his commitment to defending the rights of Amazonian peoples.

During their private exchange, he spoke to the Pope about the threats facing the Yanomami people. The 20,000 or so members of this ethnic group living on the border between Brazil and Venezuela have been victims of illegal miners – “garimpeiros” in Portuguese – who have polluted rivers, cut down trees, and spread deadly diseases to the around 300 Yanomami villages.

A request for support

“I asked him to support our struggle and also to support President [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva], so that he can get the miners off the Yanomami land,” Kopenawa said.

Pope Francis “didn’t say much, he just wanted to listen,” he added.

The indigenous representative also spoke to the head of the Catholic Church about education and health. “I asked him to contact President Lula to build a school in our community so that we can learn to write in our language and also learn to speak Portuguese,” he said.

In his opinion, this is necessary so that they can “defend our rights better and so that the ‘Whites’ don’t mislead us.”

Kopenawa expressed his conviction that the Argentine Pontiff, who has often spoken out in favor of the Amazon, could be “an ally,” with his words of “support for indigenous peoples, defense of the forest and the Amazon.”

When the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, visited the Vatican in June 2023, “respect for indigenous peoples, as well as environmental protection” were at the heart of the discussions. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, is also currently in Brazil and met with Lula and the Brazilian Bishops.

Protecting the Amazon territory is a cause dear to Pope Francis, who called a “special assembly” of the Synod of Bishops in October 2019, to reflect on “integral ecology” in this area of the globe and the challenges facing the Church and the people there.

“I dream of an Amazon region that fights for the rights of the poor, the original peoples and the least of our brothers and sisters, where their voices can be heard and their dignity advanced,” wrote the Argentine Pontiff in the apostolic exhortation published after this synod.

AmazonPope FrancisSocial Doctrine of the Church
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