A fire burns out of control in Mato Grosso State in the Amazon basin in Brazil on Aug. 23. Official figures show 78,383 forest fires have been recorded in Brazil this year, the highest number of any year since 2013. (AFP photo)
Describing the Amazon rainforest as "vital for our planet," Pope Francis has joined bishops in praying for action to extinguish the massive fires burning there.
"We are all worried about the vast fires that have developed in the Amazon," the pope said on Aug. 25 after leading the recitation of the Angelus prayer at the Vatican. "Let us pray that with the commitment of all they will be brought under control quickly. That forest lung is vital for our planet."
Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Latin American bishops' council have also called for international action to save the Amazon rainforest from the fires.
"We urge the governments of the Amazonian countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community, to take serious measures to save the lungs of the world," said the Latin American bishops in a statement.
"What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue but is of global reach. If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers."
The USCCB statement, issued on Aug. 27, echoed Pope Francis' comments and expressed "solidarity with our brother bishops in Latin America who ... have expressed their desire for a prompt extinguishment of these fires." The U.S. bishops also welcomed a decision by leaders of industrialized nations "to extend financial support for these efforts."
The Amazon produces 20 percent of the world's oxygen, according to scientific measurements.
Brazil's space research institute, which is responsible for satellite monitoring of the Amazon, had reported that the number of wildfires, common in July and August, had reached a record number already in 2019, with 72,843 fires spotted.
U.S. space agency NASA has released satellite imagery showing how smoke from the fires had created "a shroud that is clearly visible across much of the center of South America."
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said publicly that he believes non-governmental agencies — including Catholic-backed agencies such as the Land Pastoral and the Indigenous Missionary Council — are behind the illegal burnings because they have opposed his call for development of the rainforest. The organizations have strongly denied the allegations.
The upcoming October Synod of Bishops for the Amazon will discuss the plight of the indigenous living in the area as well as the deforestation of the region. Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.
"Hope for the proximity of the Amazon synod, convened by Pope Francis, is stained by the pain of this natural tragedy," the Latin American bishops said. "To the brethren indigenous peoples who inhabit this beloved territory, we express all our closeness and join your voices with yours to shout to the world for solidarity and pay attention to end this devastation."