A network of organizations has collaborated to promote gatherings devoted to the spirituality and culture of indigenous Amazonian people. The events are taking place in Rome in conjunction with the Vatican's Amazon synod this month.

"Amazonia: Casa Comun," is an initiative promoting more than 115 events hosted by a loose network of groups, connected in varying degrees to the Catholic Church.

Among the organizations involved in the project are an advocacy organization backed by bishops' conferences in Latin America; two aid and development organizations of the German bishops' conference; and a Brussels-based confederation of social justice groups.

One gathering, called "a moment of Amazon spirituality," takes place every weekday morning during the October synod in the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, blocks from the Vatican. It is organized by a group of self-identified "itinerant missionaries" called "Equipo itinerante." A leader described the event as an "encounter" in which people walk together and share their experiences of the Amazon.

The Amazon spirituality meeting Oct. 9 included singing and testimonies gathered around various objects from Amazon communities, including a wooden canoe, displayed at the foot of the sanctuary of the church, and a controversial wooden figure of a pregnant woman, which has been described as both a Marian image and as a traditional indigenous religious symbol of the goddess Pachamama, or Mother Earth.

The meeting included a moment where a woman sitting in the canoe was lifted up by participants, and concluded with the praying of the Our Father and Hail Mary.

In addition to posters displaying images of missionaries who have worked, and in some cases died in the Amazon, a poster was displayed in the Church of a woman holding a baby while breastfeeding a small animal.

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The spirituality gatherings have garnered questions and criticism from some observers, who have asked whether the rituals and displays are consistent with Catholic theology and liturgical practice. But because the 'Amazonia: Casa Comun' initiative is loosely organized, there is no identifiable spokesperson to whom questions may be directed.

CNA attempted to identify spokespersons for some individual events, but was unable to locate or identify event organizers willing to speak on behalf of the events with which they were affiliated.

The initiative aims to "convey the diverse institutions in the Amazon region, members of the Church or linked with her, which were coming to Rome," Mauricio Lopez, secretary general of REPAM, told CNA.

REPAM (the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network) is one of 14 groups on the organizing committee of the Casa Comun initiative, which Lopez said is intended as "a common space and a common calendar" for different groups to host their events, with each group maintaining responsibility and autonomy over its own events.

Lopez said each group "prepared [their event] according to what they do with the particular community they work with. So each case is different and they are sharing that diversity and spirituality from their own context."

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He noted there are around 390 different indigenous communities in the Amazon region "and spirituality is part of every culture," though he declined to comment on the ways indigenous people are contributing their spirituality to the events.

REPAM, a group backed by the bishops' conferences in Latin America, describes itself as an advocacy organization for the rights and dignity of indigenous people in the Amazon. The network is involved in operations for the synod assembly.

REPAM's president, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, holds the position of relator general of the Amazon synod.

Also involved the Casa Comun events is Adveniat, the German bishops' Latin American relief organization.

Adveniat describes its collaboration with REPAM as a partnership. In 2016, Adveniat provided 3.2 million euros to sponsor projects in the Amazon.

Adveniat and REPAM have also worked together to lobby the German government on issues related to the Amazon.

Another German bishops' aid organization, Misereor, is also part of the "coordinating committee" of Casa Comun, as is Caritas International. The two groups work together under a 2018-2020 "cooperation contract" approved by the German bishops.   

In 2018, Misereor gave 52.64 million euros to finance 337 projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to its annual report. It also sponsors projects in Africa and Asia.

Misereor is listed as a joint-host of many of the month's events alongside REPAM and CIDSE, a network of European and North American Catholic social justice organizations with headquarters in Brussels.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) is another organization involved in Casa Comun. The Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Order of Franciscan Friars Minor, and REPAM were the groups that planned a tree-planting ceremony with an indigenous performance that took place with Pope Francis inside the Vatican gardens Oct. 5.

Other events on the Casa Comun calendar are hosted by the Italian FOCSIV, an international Christian volunteer organization and by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and Talitha Kum, a network of religious sisters who fight human trafficking.

The Colombian bishops' conference is hosting a photo exhibition and two roundtable-dialogue sessions.