Pope Francis Demands End to Exploitation of Amazon.

Press. voanews.com
Pope Francis demanded Friday that governments and other institutions end the exploitation of the Amazon rainforest and recognize the region's indigenous people as the main caretakers of what he called "our common home." Speaking to thousands of people deep inside the Amazon, the Argentine pope said "The native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present."

Francis condemned the "pressure being exerted by great business interests" seeking petroleum, gold, lumber and other natural resources and plundering the area "without concern for its inhabitants." The pope was greeted warmly Friday in the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado by thousands of enthusiastic supporters who lined the streets before his meeting with the country's indigenous people.

Francis arrived in Puerto Maldonado, considered the gateway to the Amazon rainforest, after flying Thursday from Chile to the Peruvian capital of Lima. The pope met in the city's coliseum with several thousand indigenous people representing more than 20 indigenous groups, who had hoped he would deliver a strong message urging the government to recognize their land rights and clean up rivers that have been contaminated by illegal mining.

Francis had previously spoken about the need to protect the Amazon, whose lush forests are being transformed into barren and contaminated wasteland due to an expansion illegal gold mining, farming and new road and dam construction. He hopes to use the trip to build interest in a large church meeting next year on the Amazon and the natives who live there. There are about 350 indigenous groups in the region, located in southeastern Peru, some of which continue to live in voluntary isolation.

The pope's warm welcome to Puerto Maldonado was in sharp contrast to his visit earlier this week to Chile, which drew smaller crowds and whose presence sparked protests. "His desire to be with us signals a historic reconciliation with the Amazon's indigenous communities,'' said Edwin Vasquez, an indigenous leader who traveled to Puerto Maldonado to hear the pope. "We consider it a good step forward."

Before departing Chile Thursday, the Argentine pope accused abused victims of a pedophile Chilean priest of slandering a bishop who they say protected the perpetrator. Speaking to reporters before leaving, Francis said until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against him are “all calumny.”

"The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will speak," the pope said in response to a reporter's question about Barros prior to celebrating an open-air mass in the northern Chilean city of Iquique. The pope's remarks are seen as having undermined his efforts to rehabilitate the Catholic Church’s reputation while visiting South America and shocked Chileans and drew immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates.

They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of"penance and prayer" for his crimes in 2011. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes was not lacking.

Many Chileans are still angry about the pope's 2015 decision to appoint Barros, a Karadima protege, as bishop of the southern city of Osorno. Barros' controversial appointment has divided the diocese, as he has denied being aware of Karadima's abuse, and local Catholic groups in his southern diocese of Osorno are demanding that Francis remove him.

But the anger did not stop the pope from offering his unwavering support of the 61-year-old bishop. One of Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, said Barros "is a liar, a delinquent, who has amnesia after covering up for Karadima. He has covered-up abuses and should be in jail or at least dismissed."

Barros, who was attending the mass with hundreds of other bishops and clergy, has had a conspicuous presence at both of the pope's previous open-air masses and his meeting with clergy at the Santiago cathedral.

The pope also met in Santiago Tuesday with survivors of clerical sex abuse. The pope wept with them and asked forgiveness for the "irreparable damage" they suffered as children when they were sexually abused by priests - a scandal that has damaged the Catholic Church's integrity and cast a pall over the pope's first visit to the country.

The U.S.-based non-governmental organization Bishop Accountability reported last week that nearly 80 Catholic clergy members had been accused of sexually abusing Chilean children since 2000. A recent Latinobarometro survey said the crisis triggered a sharp drop in the number of Chileans who consider themselves Catholic, as well as a decline in confidence in the church as an institution. The distrust extends to Pope Francis in Chile, a country that gives him the lowest approval rating among the 18 Latin American countries in the survey.
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