America: Whatever happened to Catholic environmentalists?
the Presidential Citizens Medal and an acknowledged expert and leader in socially responsible investing, Sister Coston in 2001 founded Santuario Sisterfarm in central Texas. Proceeding from the idea that the land and human life are parts of the same ecosystem, many of the Santuario’s projects combine the empowerment of local Latina women with the modeling of sound environmental practices.
“Wherever you’re planted,” Sister Coston says, “that’s the logical place to start.”
Father Al Fritsch, SJ, knows a great deal about the difference between work on the national and on the local level. A former scientist for Ralph Nader and the cofounder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Father Fritsch is the founder of Appalachia – Science in the Public Interest. ASPI is best known for its resource assessment service, which has created 10-year action plans on environmental issues for more than 150 nonprofit organizations in 30 states, according to an interview Father Fritsch gave to the Web site Inner Explorations.
Father Fritsch used to do a lot of national organizing; now he finds resource assessments far more effective. On the national level, there is always too much infighting and rarely any impressive results. Alliances with other environmental groups are not overly productive, either. “We’ve seen misrepresentation by larger environmental groups,” explains Father Fritsch. “We don’t want to work with groups that have a take-over attitude toward things.”
In the end, while Father Fritsch acknowledges that both approaches have a place, he believes that the best work starts personally. “I don’t want to deny that we have to work on the national or international level. I’m saying that as Catholics, we have a better infrastructure to work through parishes and to take responsibility for actions on a personal level than we would on setting up a national organization.”
Father Ray Kemp agrees that parishes are a necessary part of this solution. He just wishes more priests thought so, too. Father Kemp directs “Preaching the Just Word,” a program based at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., that helps priests and other ministers of the Gospel to integrate justice better into their preaching. When I wondered aloud why I had never heard a homily about the environment, he replied: “When I ask pastors to name the issues of justice, invariably (and we’re not talking about a majority here)... the best and the brightest name the environment. The other ones look at it and say, ‘My God, you’re right; I had never thought of it.’”
This lack of preaching, for Father Kemp, reflects a deeper lack of connection to the Earth. If the best environmental activism is local, then environmental awareness must begin with local, even immediate, concerns. It is a question, says Walter Grazer, of “what people are kind of familiar with.” He adds, “People generally don’t have radical conversions; we generally move more at a snail’s pace.” Father Kemp believes that for priests to begin preaching about the environment, they will have to start “from the level of the pocketbook of their parishioners and their parish.”
Connecting the spokes
Of course, one of the most important elements of subsidiarity is that sometimes larger institutions are needed to do the things the smaller ones cannot. “You need some place that’s like a hub,” says Grazer. “If there’s no hub, you’ve got a lot of spokes, but they don’t connect.”
Brother David G. Andrews, CSC, director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, concurs. “You need a national organization to do the public policy work.” Local environmental action “needs to have a policy component in order that those good works, those good practices, get appreciated on a policy framework on the state and national level, and indeed, the international level.”
Grazer hopes that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops can serve as that hub. The USCCB has a tradition of teaching and advocacy that naturally extends to the environment. Its centralized, national status lends itself to the making of policy recommendations. All of this policy, however, points back to the experience of rural life, which requires a concern for all of God’s creation.
“If you go back into our history,” notes Brother Andrews, “we’ve always articulated a vision of care for creation and care for community.” Brother Andrews speculates that Catholics’ lack of passion about the environment may be a function of the fact that most of them live in cities. “It’s a lot easier if you live in rural America to have a vision of God’s communion with humankind through creation.”
Changing the way we think
The question, then, is how to make it easier for all Catholics to have a vision of God’s creation. Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the ...
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More U.S. News
- Nebraska Bishop: Gosnell clinic was 'reminiscent of Auschwitz'
- Why even if you lose, playing Powerball isn't such a bad bet after all
- Cheap cigarette outlets in U.S. may be funding terrorists
- Shocking report reveals 38 men, 33 women are raped each day in the military
- Father Frank Pavone: Houston Abortionist Killing Babies Born Alive
- Bill Donohue, Catholic League, Disclose Fight with the IRS, Demonstrate Courage
- Chilling note scrawled by bloodied Boston terrorist reveals motive
- Sex In Uniform: Why the Increase in Sexual Assaults in the Military?
- Dr. Glidden of Catalina Island: Monster or historian?
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?