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  • Associated Press Pope Francis greets an indigenous representative in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, on Friday. Standing with indigenous Peruvians, Francis declared the Amazon the “heart of the church” and called for a three-fold defense of its life, land and cultures. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018 1:00 am

Pope: Amazon 'heart of church'

Calls for defense of culture, life, land in Peru visit

Associated Press

PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru – From deep in the scorching Amazon rainforest, Pope Francis demanded Friday that corporations stop their relentless extraction of timber, gas and gold from God's “holy ground,” and called on governments to recognize the indigenous peoples living there as the primary forces in determining its future.

Bare-chested and tattooed native families, many sporting feathered and beaded headgear, interrupted Francis repeatedly with applause, wailing horns and beating drums as history's first Latin American pope declared the Amazon and its indigenous peoples the “heart of the church.”

In the highlight of his weeklong trip to Chile and Peru, Francis warned that the Amazon people are now more threatened than ever before, and called for a three-fold defense of their life, their land and their cultures.

“You are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home,” the pope said.

Francis met later with President Pedro Pablo Kucyznski in the presidential palace in Lima, where he blasted corruption as a “social virus” that must be stopped – a charged comment given that the Peruvian president is under investigation in Latin America's biggest corruption scandal.

Francis' trip to the Amazon came as the expansion of illegal gold mining, new roads, dams and farming have all turned thousands of acres of once-lush green forest into barren, contaminated wastelands.

The issue is so important to the Argentine pope that he has called a global church meeting next year on the Amazon and its native peoples. Friday's encounter served in many ways as an unofficial opening to the synod, giving the native peoples themselves the floor.

“The sky is angry and is crying because we are destroying the planet,” Hector Sueyo, a member of the indigenous Harakbut people, told the pope in between performances of traditional songs and dance in a steamy stadium in Puerto Maldonado.

Yesica Patiachi, also Harakbut, told Francis that loggers, oil workers and gold diggers all come to their lands to take the resources without even consulting with the indigenous people whose ancestors have lived there for centuries, cutting their trees, killing their fish and polluting their rivers with runoff that turns them into “black waters of death.”