Theologians gather in Brazil to tackle environmental crisis

By Stephen Brown
23 Jan 2009

Theologians from around the world are converging on Belém, near the mouth of the Amazon River in northeast Brazil, to develop a theology for the "sustainability of life on Earth". Their meeting comes in advance of the World Social Forum, a global gathering addressing exploitative globalisation.

"The social and political reality in the Amazonian context promotes a direct relationship with the earth, water and biodiversity and reveals the limits and alternatives of the relation of human beings with their immediate environment," noted a statement posted on the Web site (http://www.wftl.org) of the 21 to 25 January 2009 World Forum on Theology and Liberation

The forum's theme is "Water, Earth, Theology - for another possible world". Organizers say they have planned for about 400 people to attend the gathering that will be followed in the same city on 27 January by the World Social Forum.

"The relationship between water and earth that makes up the geography of the Amazon region points to a perspective of totality and wholeness of life," said theology forum organizers. "This theme refers not only to issues of distributive justice and use of natural resources," but even more so to the ecology intrinsic to the complex relationships that create and sustain the planet.

Organizers said they want to connect the deliberations of the theology forum with those of the World Social Forum. At the same time the gathering on theology and liberation is intended to contribute to an international network of theologies identified with liberation theology, a movement that emerged in Latin America stressing that Christianity should be experienced from the perspective of the poor.

The WSF said it chose Belém for its meeting because the Pan-Amazon is, "one of the last areas of the planet still relatively preserved in a geographical area of immeasurable value for their biodiversity". The region also has a diverse range of social movements, labour unions, associations, cooperatives and civil society organizations, it said.

The World Social Forum was launched in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, under the slogan, "Another world is possible". It was intended as a counter to the World Economic Forum, a gathering of politicians and business leaders that takes place each year, normally in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.

The Belém meeting marks the third time that a forum on theology and liberation has preceded a WSF gathering.

Speakers scheduled to address the theology forum include Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian Roman Catholic and one of the founders of Latin American liberation theology; Steve de Gruchy, head of the school of religion and theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa; and Chung Hyun Kyung of New York's Union Theological Seminary, who describes herself as a Korean eco-feminist, and who promotes Christian feminist dialogue with the Islamic world.

The idea for a theology forum goes back to a meeting of theologians held during the WSF in 2003. A first forum was held in Porto Alegre in 2005, and a second in Nairobi in 2007.

Belém, where the theology forum and the WSF are taking place, was founded in 1616 by Portuguese settlers and was dedicated to St Mary of Bethlehem (Belém, in Portuguese). With a metropolitan population of about two million people, the city remains the economic centre of northern Brazil, though it is also marked by great social contrasts, WSF organizers noted.

Previous meetings of the World Social Forum have taken place in 2001, 2002, 2003 (Porto Alegre, Brazil), 2004 (Mumbai, India), 2005 (Porto Alegre), 2006 (Caracas, Venezuela; Bamako, Mali; Karachi, Pakistan); 2007 (Nairobi, Kenya); 2008 (no central forum, but a "Global Call for Action").

The World Social Forum 2009 website can be found at: http://www.fsm2009amazonia.org.br

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