Franciscan friars are contributing to the preservation of the Amazon rainforest in north-west Brazil by helping indigenous people stay on their native land.
The Capuchin friars are supporting the Ticuna tribe spiritually so they can remain on their homeland and guard the Amazon from destruction.
Sônia Pinheiro, Vice Chief of the Ticuna people’s Enepü village, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the friars are the only outsiders coming to visit them who are not armed or looking to cut down trees.
Brother Paolo Braghini said that he and the other friars have helped the Ticuna cope with afflictions such as alcoholism and suicide, which have become more common since the modern world has reached the tribes in the rainforest.
He stressed that whenever the indigenous population is driven out of their land, the felling of trees and drug trafficking tend to follow – therefore it is crucial to help them stay.
Brother Braghini added: “When I first came here, I quickly felt the deep joy of living with a humble people, people who evangelise us through their lives, and who have helped me to be a better Franciscan.
“I think that Saint Francis would have loved to live here among them, because they have a natural simplicity, fraternity and harmony with nature.
“Nature is their home, and they know how to let themselves be cared for by nature.”
The community in Enepü are feeding the resident friars with the food they hunt and gather, and ACN has provided everything else they need for their pastoral and evangelisation work, including boats and a new house.
The Capuchins have lived in the region since 1910 despite the isolation and long boat journeys.
The Brothers brought the gospel to the Ticuna people and having helped save them from slavery in the nineteenth century, today they are helping protect their culture and lands.
Ticuna elder Ms Pinheiro said: “I have never left this place, I know nothing of the world, but I believe in God, He gives me eternal life.”
She added that she has asked the friars to baptise her own children and those of other families in her community.
She concluded: “I don’t want anybody to die without having gotten to know God.
“Now the names of all my children are written in Heaven.”
With thanks to Rodrigo Arantes