By: Graham Ryan
'Interesting', 'inspiring', 'informative' 'challenging', 'passionate' were some of the comments after Ellen Teague's presentation to parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes church in Harpenden on 7 July 2018. Ellen is part of the Columban Vocation for Justice team. She impressed her audience with both her wide knowledge of ecological issues in many countries over the last 30 years or more and her personal commitment to challenging the link between environmental degradation and poverty. She quoted Filipino environmentalist Yeb Sano who has described the reasons as human arrogance, avarice and apathy.
Ellen traced her journey from first-hand developing world experience in Kaduna, Nigeria, in the early 1980s to the Columban Centenary Celebration Mass at Southwark Cathedral in June 2018. In 1986, Columban Sean McDonagh's seminal book 'To Care for the Earth' alerted the Church to environmental catastrophe. In the Philippines, in Brazil, in Canada, in Scandinavia the Earth was being threated: forests destroyed, air, water and food poisoned, and oceans degraded. Almost 30 years later, Pope Francis in Laudato Si' has taken up the same cause.
Over the years various groups have championed the rights of the Earth and the rights of the people who depend on it. Campaigns have been organised internationally such as supporting the cancellation of developing country debt, climate change action, supporting environmental refugees, but more needs to happen and urgently. Westminster Justice and Peace organised a cycle ride to Paris to Lobby the climate talks there in December 2015.
In 2007 sea levels rising in the Philippines prompted the Catholic bishops of Manila Archdiocese to warn against the severe weather caused by climate change, such as destructive flooding. A simultaneous Columban climate change conference examined snow diminishing in the mountains of Peru giving alarm because rivers depend on the annual meltwater, providing water to the cities. It looked at growing dustbowls in Asia and temperatures that were sometimes unbearable, causing death. The Global Catholic Climate Movement supports Pope Francis in appealing to people to "hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor".
Ellen drew attention to the absolute imperative for us as Christians responding to the signs of our times, and to Catholic social teaching to make our lives greener. She quoted Pope Francis in Laudato Si (p127) about the need for "ecological conversion", and underlined those things that hold us back: enjoying our modern lifestyle, still believing in the "trickle down" development model, tolerance of conflict and weapons production, despair at the scape of the problems, etc. She pointed to the Eucharist as the sacrament of ecology: "fruit of the vine and work of human hands".
We all need to reduce our carbon footprint: plastic is invading our beaches and killing our fish and climate instability is being caused by excessive greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, put there by humans. Then there is the massive importance of water: virtual water, for example, is a newly recognised issue where we look at the amount of water it takes to produce our food; it takes 25 litres of water to produce a potato and 1440 litres for one pork steak, suggesting that a meat-rich diet is excessively heavy on the environment. In Mexico, there were demonstrations against Coca Cola for taking control of traditional aquifers in Chiapas which are the heritage of entire communities. "Water is for all!", said placards in Chile, also warning against the commodification of water and the seizing of control of water sources by corporations.
Our Lady of Lourdes in Harpenden has been working hard throughout the year to realise an Action Plan for the Cafod LiveSimply Award, through five lively "Interest" groups : Liturgy, Eco/Environment, JPIC, Practical/Resources and Communications. One of the Highlights will be a celebratory Mass on 4 October, the feast of St Francis.
We hope also to make use in Creation Time during September of the resources available in August of the Global Healing initiative of the Bishops Conference.