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Monday, December 2, 2013

Kenyan bishops: “Faiths care for nature and protect wildlife”

Archbishop Peter J. Kairo (right) and Allen Ottaro of The Conference of Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa.

Many thanks to Allen Ottaro for taking the time to tell us about an impressive eco-event that has just wrapped up in Kenya. Allen attended as the Executive Director of the The Conference of Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa.

Held from November 27th through the 30th, the event's theme sums up its purpose: “Faiths care for nature and protect wildlife.” Organized and run by the Commission for Pastoral and Lay Apostolate of the Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), with sponsoring by the World Wildlife Fund, the workshop sought inter-religious dialogue through the unifying topic of protecting our planet's ecosystems, which gives us all a "unique and common responsibility.”

Catholic Ecology: What were some of the themes that emerged from this gathering?

Allen Ottaro: A wide range of themes were reflected upon and discussed during the two-day meeting. In his opening remarks at the beginning of the workshop, Archbishop of Nyeri Peter Kairo, who is also the Chairman of the Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue at the KCCB, outlined the commitment of the Catholic Church towards caring for creation.

He offered a summary of key encyclicals and documents and their contribution to the Church’s understanding  and mission in caring for creation, such as Rerum Novarum (Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labour 1891), Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth, Pope John XXIII, 1965), Gaudium et Spes (Church in the Modern World, 1965), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (Social Concerns of the Church, Pope John Paul II), Peace with God the Creator, Peace with Creation (Pastoral Letter of Pope John Paul II 1990), Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI) and Africae Munus (Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Africa’s Commitment, Pope Benedict XVI).

Three other speakersDr. Augustine Afulo, a university lecturer on sustainability issues; Ms. Marlene Achoki, who specializes on climate change; and Mrs. Dacy Ogada, an expert on birds at the National Museums of Kenyaintroduced basic concepts in their areas of specialization and invited participants to relate the concepts to their daily life experiences. The impacts of climate change in Kenya such as food insecurity, resource-use conflicts, and increased incidences of malaria in the highlands provided lively debates during the plenary sessions.

Two other speakers, Reverend Patrick Maina, from the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and Ms. Alejandra Robinson from the International Baha’i Community, shared perspectives on approaches to wildlife and environmental conservation based on their faith traditions. The common message emerging from Reverend Maina and Ms. Robinson’s presentations was that faith based organizations have an important role to play in making the case for action with regard to conservation efforts.

Some of the workshop participants gather for a group photo.
CE: What did members of the various faiths share in common and where did they note any differences or differing insights when engaging ecological issues?

Ottaro: The majority of the approximately 30 participants to the workshop were drawn from the Christian (Catholic, Adventist, and Presbyterian), Muslim, and Baha’i faiths. There was also a good representation of young people from universities taking courses in environmental science. What struck me was the strong desire to work together in caring for creation as faith groups. While there was an openness to seek clarity on what the different faiths profess on ecological issues, I found that participants in their discussions were respectful of each others' views and focused more on how their different communities across Kenya were affected in the same way by the consequences of deforestation, prolonged drought seasons and reduced productivity of farmlands. Besides the enormity of the challenges posed by environmental degradation, that provided strong impetus for collective action, it seemed to me that the faiths shared a solid moral concern for taking care of the earth. The poaching crisis for example, was found to be a complex problem with many facets to it including corruption.

CE: How well was the Catholic Church represented and what did its members add?

Ottaro: At least half if not more of the participants were members of the Catholic Church. After the official opening of the workshop by Archbishop Kairo, Fr. Charles Odirawho serves as the National Executive Secretary to the Commission for Pastoral and Lay Apostolate of the KCCBguided the proceedings in a gentle but highly effective manner and with a great sense of humor. 

Two other priests, Fr. Wanzala and Fr. Orenge, took part as well. Fr. Wanzala is a Conventual Franciscan who works at the National Marian Shrine at Subukia, a town that is right at the equator. The Diocese of Ngong to which Fr. Orenge belongs is also home to the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve and his presence was therefore very important in the context of wildlife conservation. (It is interesting to note that Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak after Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, falls within the Archdiocese of Nyeri).

The Damietta Initiative, a project of the Capuchin Franciscans that works towards non-violence and peace throughout Africa in the spirit of St.Francis of Assisi, was also represented as were the Little Sisters of St.Joseph. I was honored to represent the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA). I came away with the impression that the representatives of the Catholic Church, collectively, added a sense of strong leadership and networking possibilities, elements which were certainly useful in an interfaith forum. A number of speakers of other faiths greatly appreciated the structure of the Catholic Church as a strong foundation upon which tremendous work on care of creation could be done in addition to already ongoing initiatives.

As a representative of CYNESA, I was happy to bring the perspectives of young Catholics to the discussion, and to bring into focus the potential that exists in the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of young people of faith in offering leadership to ecological initiatives.

CE: Were there any future steps—any definitive plans?

Photo: Flicker/HappyTellus
Ottaro: A small team of people was set up to work through the key issues and proposed actions that were identified during the discussions. The team was mandated to prepare a draft strategic action plan, which will then be shared with the participants and their communities they represent. The plan will suggest concrete activities that would involve interfaith collaboration for the coming year. 

The feast day of St.Francis of Assisi has also been set aside as a national day for action. The first event was held this year, on October 4th. It involved a big tree planting event at a high school on the outskirts of Nairobi. The strategic plan will suggest how to improve the event, but also other activities and initiatives during the course of the year.

There were also opportunities during the workshop for different faith groups to network and explore how to work together in different areas of the country. I had the opportunity to meet with Fr. Odira during breaks in the workshop program and had very fruitful discussions on how to engage young people in parishes across the country. He pledged the support of his office in assisting CYNESA to approach parish priests and inviting young people to formation forums and “planning with them as opposed to for them,” in terms of practical activities, he said.

CE: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ottaro: The challenges facing Kenya in environmental conservation including the protection of wildlife are enormous. However, the commitment and values that faith communities have in caring for creation were for me inspiring. The leadership that continues to be exhibited by the Catholic Church in Kenya, in promoting environmental care from an integral pastoral perspective is certainly something that should be replicated across the Africa. It is an invitation that still calls all of us in Kenya and in Africa to respond and to act, individually and collectively. 

Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this responsibility in Africae Munus:”God has given Africa important natural resources … Some business men and women, governments and financial groups are involved in programmes of exploitation which pollute the environment and cause unprecedented desertification. Serious damage is done to nature, to the forests, to flora and fauna, and countless species risk extinction. All of this threatens the entire ecosystem and consequently the survival of humanity. I call upon the Church in Africa to encourage political leaders to protect such fundamental goods as land and water for the human life of present and future generations and for peace between peoples.”

•   •   •

Below is a short introductory video with Allen and his team introducing the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa. See a December 2012 interview with Allen here.

1 comment:

  1. This is the right way to go. Faiths touch the very core of human beings whether they believe or not. Essentially, intertwining the calls to care for creation as we are called to be co-creators with our Creator makes the urge to participate actively in caring for biodiversity our personal agendas. If faith can move mountains, how about faiths...?


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