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Friday, December 27, 2013

The 2013 top ten Catholic ecology stories

It was a bit dizzying at times, wasn’t it?

Surprising, uncertain, joyful—however you describe the last twelve months in the life of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, 2013 was one for the books.

Much that happened included or impacted ecclesial activity in the eco-sector—so much so that a few items below are groupings of events that in their own right deserve more attention. But by any counting, we find a clear trend throughout 2013—an escalating momentum and a strong continuity of ecology’s presence within the Church’s internal teachings and her activity in the world.

As I am not a full-time blogger, I’m sure I missed some stories. And so I’m interested in what you would add (or subtract) to this list of 2013’s major eco-events. Feel free to put those in the comments.

But for now, here’s my top ten:

10. Scholars examine, publish on Benedict XVI’s eco-statements

This first item provides appropriate continuity with 2012, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Climate Covenant, and the Catholic University of America held a unique conference on the eco-thought of Pope Benedict XVI. "A Catholic Consultation on Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI’s Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States" brought together five bishops, over a dozen academic presenters and moderators, and a great many others seeking to unpack the words of Pope Benedict XVI in the context of emerging scientific understandings of a changing climate. The event’s papers were published this spring—and they make a valuable resource for scholars or anyone interested in the impact of Benedict XVI on Catholic eco-engagement. Edited by Jame Schaefer, associate professor of systematic theology and ethics at Marquette University, and Tobias Winright, associate professor of theological ethics at Saint Louis University, Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI's Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States explores four key areas in connection with Benedict XVI’s teachings: human and natural ecology/human life and dignity; solidarity, justice, poverty and the common good; sacramentality of creation; and our Catholic faith in action. Publishers describe the work as the “product of mutual collaboration by bishops, scholars and staff, this anthology provides the most thorough treatment of Benedict XVI’s contributions to ecological teaching,” saying that it “offers fruitful directions for advancing concern among Catholics in the United States about ongoing threats to the integrity of Earth.” Ordering instructions and more information about this significant resource can be found here.

9.  Filipino bishops, archbishop demonstrate ecclesial eco-engagement

Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila. 
Photo: Flicker/James Sarmiento
We find toward the end of 2013 a model example of ecclesial concerns over a local issue that has widespread social and ecological implications. Twenty one bishops in the Archdiocese of Manila—including its archbishop, the Most Reverend Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, D.D.—wrote to their nation’s president with their concerns over the Manila Bay Reclamation Project, a massive mixed-use development proposal that includes the construction of artificial islands in Manila Bay. While the project has stirred concern among many sectors, the Church is expressing its own particular blend of caution. The bishops' letter calls attention to scripture, Catholic social teachings, and the writings of Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It also echoes statements by Pope Francis that urge the Church to encourage economic models of development that do not bring excessive profit to some by bringing pain to others—or that have no regard for the natural world. What will happen with this proposed development is anyone’s guess. But that a local church has made this such a priority is in itself worthy of high praise and a place on this top ten listing. (It should be noted that the Filipino bishops have a history of eco-concern. In 2010, for instance, they issued this letter about mining. The letter rather emphatically concludes “reflecting on our role as Stewards of God's creation, we, the bishops of Eastern Visayas, call on to our responsible leaders in government, in the private sector and all those who harbor intentions of mining our region to listen to the voices of our people, ‘Bring back the Beautiful Land we had once; STOP MINING IN OUR REGION.’” Emphasis original.)
8. More Catholic institutions and parishes go green, raise eco-awareness

Photo: Flicker/ Andreas Demmelbauer
Whether it was because of solar installations or academic involvement, Catholic communities made news with their eco-concerns and green energy use. This spring we saw the University of Notre Dame host a conference on climate change that “aimed to understand climate change and learn how to address it with an ethical, religious, and social lens.” Conference organizers say that the event represents the beginning of more studies on climate change and social values. There was also news from the Catholic University of America. It seems they’ve been busy with extensive renewable energy projects thanks to the vision and efforts of CUA staff and students. Joining the green-energy fun has been a series of parishes and religious orders, like Blessed Sacrament Parish and its school in Scottsdale, Arizona and Mount St.Mary's Cistercian Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts. The Diocese of Honolulu takes the prize for the continuation in 2013 of an impressive program of solar installations at 22 parishes as well as at its diocesan headquarters. In all, the work accounts for a third of the diocese’s parishes. Our compliments to His Excellency, Bishop Larry Silva for this fantastic initiative. These projects add to existing green church infrastructure across the globe. No doubt we’ll be seeing more—but for now, please add in the comments any additional green energy projects from 2013, from years past, of those planned. 

7. Growing Catholic opposition to fracking

Photo from @dpoliti
2013 also saw a growing Catholic wariness over hydraulic “fracking”—that under-regulated technique of drawing out natural gas from fragile shale deposits across the globe. The process uses millions of gallons of water to shake things up underground. One of the problems with fracking is what to do with the polluted wastewater—water that’s filled with proprietary chemicals and anything it picks up in its journey into and out of the depths of the earth. Then there are issues of groundwater contamination. The list of concerns with fracking goes on. While the Church seeks to balance any good that can come from technological breakthroughs to help lower energy costs, we know that the ends don’t justify the means. And so we’ve seen members of the Church step up and say no to fracking. In Kentucky, for instance, the Sisters of Loretto and Our Lady of Gethsemani have refused to grant an easement for a natural gas pipeline on their property. There is also the now famous photo of Pope Francis holding an anti-fracking t-shirt. The pope did not appear pleased in the photo, and there is no official word yet on what any of this means. But there is talk of an encyclical on ecology, or at least one about social issues that would include ecology. If so, we’ll likely hear about this from the pontiff himself. For now, Dennis Sadowski at Catholic News Service has an in-depth series on the Church and fracking. It makes for good reading and explains in detail why the Church-fracking link is on this list.

6. Ghana's Cardinal Turkson continues to highlight ecology

Photo: Flicker/Catholic Church (England and Wales)
We’ve already heard about Filipino bishops and their own Cardinal Tagle. 2013 also saw the Australian bishops’ council add ecology and stewardship to their voting guide. But few bishops, archbishops, or Princes of the Church have expressed ecclesial eco-concerns as clearly, boldly, and as often as Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana. Continuing a history of statements about the natural environment, the cardinal spoke at 2013’s World Youth Day by linking ecology and human life (as had Benedict XVI). “We cannot show concern for the earth and not show concern for human life,” Cardinal Turkson said. “Neither can we show concern for human life and not show concern for the environment or the earth. The two go hand-in-hand.” The cardinal also noted that it would take a sincere “conversion of heart” to bring about authentic and meaningful changes to the way humanity relates to its natural, life-giving environment. Later in the year the cardinal spoke in the United States regarding transgenic crops. He may have upset those opposed to genetically modified organisms in the food supply, but his words nonetheless were those of a Prince of the Church applying Catholic teachings on faith and reason for the benefit of the common good. (One of the arguments made by Church leaders in support of transgenic plants is that they require less pesticides and herbicides, which come with their own ecological and human health impacts. Such endorsements come, of course, with caveats that no research or technology can override moral laws.) No matter where you stand on a particular ecological issue, you can be sure that Cardinal Turkson will either comfort or challenge you as he continues to provide an inspired magisterial voice for the good of people and the planet.

5. African Catholics seek sustainability

Archbishop Peter J. Kairo (right) and Allen Ottaro
Other African voices are also sounding the eco-alarm—and in doing so they are being rather constructive in how they offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ to efforts in environmental planning and policy. Kenya’s Archbishop Peter J. Kairo has offered a particularly steady voice for the environment. Most recently he spoke at an interfaith eco-gathering in Nairobi titled “Faiths care for nature and protect wildlife.”  According to conference attendee Allen Ottaro, executive director of the Conference of Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability inAfrica (CYNESA), half of the participants at this event were Catholic, indicating the growing Catholic involvement in the ecological issues of Kenya in particular and Africa in general. Ottaro’s group itself highlights the growing concerns of African youth—especially within the Church—for the continent's social and environmental challenges. You can read much more about the interfaith gathering, Ottaro, and CYNESA in an interview with him here.

4. Growing bonds between faith and secular policy makers

The secular world is increasingly looking to faith communities to help right the societal and ecological ills of our day. In part this comes from the realization that faith speaks to the heart in ways that secular environmental advocates cannot. For its part, the Catholic Church brings a proven track record of placing faith and reason into dialogue. The Church also brings a rather large, well-organized structure to local and international matters, a point that Allen Ottaro notes in his interview noted above. And so in 2013, there have been increased efforts by secular entities to work with the Church on matters of environmental protection and sustainability. Dr. Robert Brinkmann, a sustainability expert at Hofstra University, expressed this in opening remarks of his interview of me in August. He notes that “science and policy can only do so much to try to deal with the environmental issues we are facing. Our broader culture has a great influence on the planet in ways that transcend any type of policy directive we can try to bring forward.  Religion is a great way to examine the environment and the human condition.” (I had also interviewed Dr. Brinkmann on the current status of sustainability studies. It’s one of the most popular posts at Catholic Ecology in 2013.) I’ve also seen this desire among the secular world to work with the Church in my professional activities with climate-change policy makers—locally and nationally. Internationally there is the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, founded in 1995 by His Royal Highness Prince Philip. The group seeks to help secular environmental efforts benefit from the enthusiasm and moral teachings of faith communities. In July, ARC delivered a letter to Pope Francis asking him to call special attention to issues in the Amazon Basin. The letter preceded by a few days the Pope’s attendance at Rio’s World Youth Day. And indeed, the pontiff did exhort the bishops of Brazil to protect Amazon—and by extension its ecology and peoples. In doing so, the pope was able to elevate the issue in ways that secular organizations could not. (While the Church must be cautious that its primary mission entrusted to it by Christ is not cast aside for secular interests, the Church’s work with the secular world is a means of New Evangelization, a reality that Benedict XVI proved more than once. But again, as we see in the next item on this list, the Church must be cautious.)

3. The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

The fortieth anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States is on this list for interrelated reasons. As noted by Cardinal Turkson and by Benedict XVI, and many others, there is an inextricable link between abortion and ecological issues. This does not imply an equivalency between these realities. But abortion and ecology are connected. (When a cardinal and a pope can be called upon to make such a point, the point is valid, even if many do not wish to admit it.) The anniversary of Roe v. Wade makes this list because the decision (and the culture of death that it signifies) must warn Catholic ecologists against aligning ourselves too closely with those who support the “right to choose.” I say this because this self-imposed “right” is a symptom of a cultural inability to sacrifice for the good of innocent life. And if a culture cannot sacrifice for the good of others—if it will not encourage and support the life of unborn children, no matter the stage of growth—then that culture ultimately will be of no help in championing ecological issues (which, I argue, is why (whether they know it or not) so many secular groups are looking to the Church for help). After all, conservation and stewardship require sacrifice and self-control. This is also true for a culture that supports so-called same-sex marriage. We threaten all life when the desires of individuals—biological, emotional, or otherwisetrump the needs of the greater good, such as nurturing a culture of fertility and family cohesion. “Choice” as it is understood by many today ultimately justifies any choice to meet any need, desire, or whim. This regressive understanding of “choice” comes from the same source as modern pathologies that encourages the over consumption of the planet’s resources and the pollution of its water and air. This is why Pope Francis, as did his predecessors, links a culture of disposability and consumption with a culture of death. It is no coincidence that in the forty years since the United States Supreme Court paved the way to the death of tens of millions of unborn children, the United States and the world has also seen rampant, widespread, and often irreversible ecological damage. If disposing of babies can be justified, so can the disposal of other forms of life. Thus 2013 was a learning opportunity—a year to reflect on exactly who our allies in ecological protection are and who are not, no matter how much they believe otherwise.

2. Benedict XVI, the “green pope,” retires

Photo: Flicker/ Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Many of us will never forget where we were when the news sunk in—after we made certain that the reports were true, that Benedict XVI was indeed stepping down from the Throne of St. Peter. There is much to say about this moment in Church history. The humble abdication of power is in itself a lesson to the faithful and the world. But our task here is to focus on the ecological. Benedict was called the “green pope” by the faithful and the secular media for a reason. He boldly carried the eco-concerns of Bl. John Paul II deeper into the twenty-first century. But his championing of the environment was not mere theory. He put his words into practice. In all, he continued to ingrain them into magisterial teachings. No longer would pontifical eco-statements be considered the whim of one pope. Benedict XVI made certain we knew that the world’s ecological wellbeing concerned the Church deeply—and, professor that he was, he also taught us why. And so many Catholics and those outside of the Church worried that the retirement of Benedict XVI meant the end of powerful pontifical statements and actions that championed life on earth. But as I noted in the period between pontiffs, after Benedict XVI it would be impossible for any pontiff to ignore the cries of the earth. While I was correct, I underestimated what would happen next …

1. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio elected pontiff, takes name of St. Francis 

Photo: Flicker/ Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Habemus Papam! Francisco! With those words, the eco-sphere lit up and flooded social media. Catholic ecologists and many others shouted a collective Alleluia! While some wondered early on which Francis had been the inspiration for the name chosen by Cardinal Bergoglio, the obvious choice was the patron saint of ecologists. The name fit for many reasons, especially for a man who saw much work ahead to rebuild the Church with building blocks that his predecessors had provided him—we can’t overlook that. We also can’t overlook that St. Francis was not just known for his love of creation, but also for the virtuous lifestyles needed to protect creation—and souls. Nor can we forget that St. Francis knew the importance of the Cross. Thus taking the name of Francis of Assisi was an inspired choice on many levels. Since he first stepped onto the balcony overlooking the many thousands in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis has done and said much that has challenged every sector of the Church. (As I said to a friend recently, if your Catholic faith never challenges you, something is wrong.) This new pope—the first from the New World—has brought to the Throne of St. Peter an Ignatian spirituality and a practical background that not only eschews thrones (even if he understands why they are needed) but that uniquely champions the least among us—including the goodness of all life. Pope Francis has already said much about human consumption and life on earth. As we’ve seen already, he seems to condemn fracking while supporting the protection of the Amazon Basin. He exhorts us all to consume and discard less. He asks us to live simply and care for creation. One can be sure that much more ecologically themed statements, magisterial documents, and environmentally important actions will be coming from this pope. Fortunately, with the secular media enamored by his simple and dramatic ways, his words on the link between virtue, grace, and ecology will be heard by many millions. 

And so what exactly awaits the world of Catholic ecology? One can only wonder. My guess is that with Pope Francis continuing his predecessors’ eco-interest, the 2014 top-ten list will demonstrate once again the acceleration seen already in the historic 365 days that made up 2013.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Caesar decrees, Christ saves: Good news for Catholic ecologists

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus 
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment, 
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
Luke 2:1-2

Caesar Augustus could never have imagined what you and I take for granted: a child born in a subjugated corner of his empire would build a kingdom that would outlast Rome—and every empire after. The glad tidings preached and lived by this child would bring to human existence a strength and a meaning that no human governance could offer. 

Christ came as a ruler unlike any other: He came with infinite power and in utter humility. He came to challenge the way we humans go about our business. Christians proclaim that these truths should illuminate every human activity—including how we seek to coexist with the rest of creation, an endeavor that of late has taken on increasingly political overtones.

And this brings us to good news: Since the birth of Christ, every Christmas has been a political event. 

Yes, in some ways we witness this in the perennial charges of state-sponsored proselytization when public school students dare sing Christmas hymns, or in lawsuits against the placement of Christian imagery on public property. In more volatile areas, Christmas—and Christianity in general—comes with fiery and lethal persecution. 

For some of us, it may seem that these anti-Christian sentiments are a new reality. But, as we know from the Gospels and Church history, Christianity has more often than not been an unwelcome stranger in a dark and frightened world.

Jesus and the Centurion by Paolo Veronese (1528 - 1588)
Luke squarely places the coming of the Son of God within the regulatory activities of the greatest empire of his age—indeed, of any known to his world. Mark does likewise, briefly and rather subversively. Their shared point was simple: Peace on earth, justice, and the proper ordering of human and cosmic affairs come only from our willing to be elevated by the presence of God—the divine author of nature’s laws and thus the true author of the just laws of man.

None of this means that Christ came to discourage human governance. He came to baptize it—along with all human activity—because he came to baptize us.

This Christian proclamation is one that Catholics must never forget, no matter what our vocations. It is a truth that Catholics engaged in ecological issues must especially embrace and live.

In his first encyclical, God is Love, Benedict XVI taught us about the blending of divine love and human governance. In doing so he reminded us of the place of the Christian disciple in matters of worldly activity. These words are particularly important for those who seek a purely political solution to our ecological ills.

In part, Benedict XVI wrote that
[j]ustice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.
Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God's standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.
Further along, he adds that
[t]he Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.
Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ.
Pope Francis has already echoed and built upon these words and will continue to do so. In his exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel," Francis quotes his predecessor’s words from God is Love, adding that 
[a]ll Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.
For our purposes, this means that Catholics engaging in ecological policy must first be concerned with the conversion of hearts and the salvation of souls. And these ends come only from an encounter with the loving heart of Jesus Christ, as Pope Francis put it.

What all this is saying is that the primary task of the ecologically minded is not stirring social upheaval. Yes, there are times to peacefully protest (as with the annual March for Life in Washington D.C.) and to add our voices to local and national legislative hearings. We are to engage the political process. But we cannot seek to do good by doing harm, which some political activities can encourage and justify. Like Christ—who did not break into human history in Caesar’s palace with an army of angels around him, but as a naked infant born in a manger—anyone who seeks to save mankind from ecologically damaging lifestyles must work with patience, charity, and humility. Indeed, we must embrace the virtues taught and demonstrated by Christ.

But it is human to want to resist this—the path of the cross. And yet the ways of God are not the ways of Caesar, or you, or me. God's ways are infinitely good, right, just, and true. Christ lost on the day of his state-sponsored execution. But in allowing this loss He baptized it and won eternity for humanity—and for all creation.

And so it must be for us.

After all, Christmas is about the salvation that comes from humility. From trust. It is about the small, sacrificial ways in which God’s grace appears, when allowed to—sacramentally and otherwise. It is about God’s victory over man’s vices. It is about the Word made flesh—the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Few today know any words or songs of praise to Caesar Augustus. But centuries before Christ’s birth, the Hebrew people were already singing in praise of the coming of the King of kings. We hear these words, in part, in Psalm 96, which millions of Christians sing at Midnight Mass—words that remind us of what should be a joyful, peaceful relationship between God, nature, and the human race.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
They shall exult before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Wishing you all a blessed Christmas.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bishops of Manila: development must balance common good

A man of the people—and the planet: Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila
Photo: Flicker/James Sarmiento

In a unique example of episcopal involvement in city planning and commercial development, twenty one bishops in the Archdiocese of Manila—including its archbishop, the Most Reverend Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, D.D.—have written to the president of the Philippines with their concerns for the Manila Bay Reclamation Project, a massive mixed-use development proposal that includes the construction of artificial islands in Manila Bay. 

While the project has stirred concern among many sectors, the Church is expressing its own particular blend of caution.

The bishops' letter calls attention to scripture, Catholic social teachings, and the writings of Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It also echoes statements by Pope Francis that urge the Church to encourage economic models of development that do not bring excessive profit to some by bringing pain to others—or that have no regard for the natural world. Quoting the Holy Father, Archbishop Tagle writes that the bishops 
appeal to you [President Simeon Benigno C. Aquino III] to be with us in responding to the call of Pope Francis. “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of one another and of the environment”
Make no mistake, this letter is not an opinion piece. The bishops have done their homework. Their comments express the findings of researchers that have studied the development’s risk to flooding and earthquakes, as well as its impact on ecosystems. The letter also suggests that public investments in this project would be better spent maintaining and improving existing communities. 

Sunset on Manila Bay. Project critics worry about lost 
views should the proposed development be built  
The bishops conclude with an impressive blend of faith, reason, and policy analysis. 
The scientific, legal and moral basis of our opposition for the reclamation of Manila Bay echoes God’s message. The Scriptures tell us in the Book of Genesis that after creating the heavens, the earth, the sea, and man and woman, “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).  Manila Bay is God’s creation and is God’s gift to the Filipino people. Blessed John Paul II constantly reminded us of this during. In a message for World Day of Peace titled, “Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation,” he warned us that “we cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well-being of future generations.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI elaborated on this in his own 2010 World Day of Peace message, “If you want to cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.”
At the heart of Catholic social teaching is the concept of the Common Good. This is what should guide us in our decision regarding the Reclamation project. So we ask, “who stands to benefit from this project?”  
There is no question that the Project will generate spectacular profits for the corporations pushing the projects and for Local Government Units, many of which have serious debt problems. Should the decision to allow the project be determined only by financial considerations? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his last World Day of Peace Message on January 1, 2013, pointed out that “the predominant (economic) model of recent decades called for seeking maximum profit and consumption ... aimed at considering individuals solely in terms of their ability to meet the demands of competitiveness.” He said further that much tension and conflict are caused “by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.” He thus called for “a new economic model” and “a new model of well as a new approach to the economy”.
A vision based on this “new model of development” is already being pursued to restore Manila Bay to its former richness. Our own Supreme Court decided, en banc, on December 18, 2008, in favor of the people and ordered all concerned agencies of the government to undertake a Mandatory Clean up and Rehabilitation of Manila Bay. According to research, the bay’s toxicity level has not made it unfit for marine life such as hasa-hasa, bisugo, squid, crab, shrimp, oyster and mussels, that sustains  the livelihood of settlers along the coastlines of Cavite, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan. “There is hope of restoration of Manila Bay’s marine resources. Manila Bay, with all its pollution, still contains life and gives life,” Dr. Laura David of UP-MSI told the Manila Standard Today newspaper (July 24, 2013).
This is really, really good stuff.

Will this episcopal statement have any effect? Perhaps. The Philippines is a predominately Catholic country. Whatever happens, I’ll make sure to keep you posted on these pages.

But for now, may God bless Archbishop Tagle and the bishops who have joined their signatures to his. Their involvement in this local eco-issue serves as a model of local churches everywhere.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pope Francis's first message for World Day of Peace: finding the "grammar" of creation

Photo: Flicker/Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Pope Francis issued today his 2014 Message for World Day of Peace.

While the day falls on January 1st, it is customary for popes to issue the message a few weeks early. This is helpful as these pontifical messages are important and call for much reflection.

Francis’s is no exception. His guiding theme of “fraternity” reminds us that this human reality builds up a variety of other realities that build up peace on earth. His reflections on Christ-centered fraternity provide helpful context for his recently released apostolic exhortation, which so many are commenting about (including me). 

As for the Message for World Day of Peace, here's my only observation for now: Within the section on ecology, you’ll note Francis’s use of the term “grammar,” which he himself places in quotes to acknowledge that the term (used in conjunction with creation) came from someone else. Benedict XVI introduced the concept of a “grammar of creation” in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (see §48.) Pope Francis picks up on this and underscores it. I love finding Francis referencing his predecessor (which he does quite often) because it reminds us of the continuity between them—indeed, between all Successors of St. Petereven if so many think otherwise. (And for a wonderful reflection on the use the term "grammar" in Caritas in Veritate, read David Cloutier’s essay “Working with the Grammar of Creation: Benedict XVI, Wendell Berry, and the Unity of Catholic Moral Vision” in the winter 2010 edition of Communio.)

While there is much more to be said about Francis’s words on peace, there will be time for that later. For now, in these busy days, let us simply read his words—especially those on creation—and allow them to stir within us as we continue on our Advent journey.

Fraternity helps to preserve and cultivate nature
9. The human family has received from the Creator a common gift: nature. The Christian view of creation includes a positive judgement about the legitimacy of interventions on nature if these are meant to be beneficial and are performed responsibly, that is to say, by acknowledging the “grammar” inscribed in nature and by wisely using resources for the benefit of all, with respect for the beauty, finality and usefulness of every living being and its place in the ecosystem. Nature, in a word, is at our disposition and we are called to exercise a responsible stewardship over it. Yet so often we are driven by greed and by the arrogance of dominion, possession, manipulation and exploitation; we do not preserve nature; nor do we respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.
In a particular way, the agricultural sector is the primary productive sector with the crucial vocation of cultivating and protecting natural resources in order to feed humanity. In this regard the continuing disgrace of hunger in the world moves me to share with you the question: How are we using the earth’s resources? Contemporary societies should reflect on the hierarchy of priorities to which production is directed. It is a truly pressing duty to use the earth’s resources in such a way that all may be free from hunger. Initiatives and possible solutions are many, and are not limited to an increase in production. It is well known that present production is sufficient, and yet millions of persons continue to suffer and die from hunger, and this is a real scandal. We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being. In this regard I would like to remind everyone of that necessary universal destination of all goods which is one of the fundamental principles of the Church’s social teaching. Respect for this principle is the essential condition for facilitating an effective and fair access to those essential and primary goods which every person needs and to which he or she has a right.


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.”

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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.