Society Matters | Volume 30 No. 2 | Winter 2020

Volume 30 No. 2 | Winter 2020 8 Society Matters A Newsletter of the Divine Word Missionaries Inc - Australia Province Donations to the SVDAUS Province Overseas Aid Fund can be made online at or by mailing to Divine Word Missionary Appeal Office, Locked Bag 3, Epping NSW, 1710, Australia. @svdaus Pope’s Amazon exhortation was “a love letter to the people” Pope Francis’ exhortation Quereda Amazonia is a love letter from the pontiff to the people of the Amazon, bringing indigenous peoples, the poor and forgotten, right into the centre of the Church’s loving embrace, says former missionary to the Amazon, Fr Manh Le SVD. But, Fr Manh says, while the letter is addressed to the people of the Amazon, it has universal themes, which go right to the heart of Pope Francis’ vision of a missionary Church which goes out to the margins. Fr Manh, who was born in Vietnam in 1971 but escaped from the Communist regime to Australia with his family when he was a teenager, spent 15 years as a SVD missionary in Brazil, including a number of years living with the people of the Amazon River. “That was a big change, a shock,” he says of his time on the Amazon. “You basically leave the modern world behind. There’s no water, no electricity, no phones.” Fr Manh moved up and down the river, visiting different communities along the way and staying with the people in their homes. He says the fact that Pope Francis chose to follow up his Laudato Si encyclical with a Synod on the Amazon shows the systematic thought and movement of his pontificate. “ Laudato Si was about caring for our common home and the exhortation on the Amazon is very much about that too – caring for our people and our earth and showing how the two are interconnected,” Fr Manh says. “You can see his tenderness in the opening words, in which he refers to the Amazon region as ‘beloved’. It’s very personal and very authentic. He has written a letter directly to his children. It’s beautiful.” Fr Manh says Pope Francis drew out four key themes in his exhortation: First of all, it is a letter to and for the people, the poor, the marginalised, the forgotten, and he is drawing them into the centre of the Church; Secondly, he talks of the importance of respecting and maintaining the riches of indigenous culture; Thirdly, he talks of the need to protect native ecology and how important that is for the whole world; and finally, he talks about the need to foster vocations – not just priestly vocations, but all vocations, noting also the important vocations of women in the Amazon. “All of those themes are interconnected. It’s a very Christian, trinitarian way of looking at things. That we are all one, but in relationship.” Fr Manh says that from his knowledge of the people in the Amazon region, the letter will take a while to filter through and reach everyone. “But really what they were hoping for was support from the Church. That’s what the people are looking for. They have been neglected and used by political and economic forces and even the Church, so this message from Pope Francis will be welcomed by them.” Fr Manh says that the media commentary surrounding the question of whether Pope Francis would allow married priests to minister in the Amazon showed a narrow view of what was needed for the people. “Instead, he asked us all to pray for more vocations. He issued a challenge for the Church to become more missionary, to reach out to all the marginalised, the poor and forgotten. He spoke also of the important role that women play in the Amazon, especially religious sisters and lay women,” he says. “It is a much bigger view of the missionary vocation, where each of us is called to play our role.”