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How Are You Caring for God's Creation?

  Environmental Awareness in Our Own Backyard

  Caring for God's Creation

  So Where Do We Start?

Have you ever seen the bumper stickers that read "Think Globally, Act Locally"? Whenever I see that bumper sticker on a car, I find myself thinking how odd it is that this slogan is plastered on the rear of one of the largest sources of pollution in our society today. It also brings home that all too often environmental issues are thought of as someone else's problem, somewhere else.

Pope John Paul acknowledged this type of thinking on March 12 when he addressed members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Individuals "sometimes have the impression that their decisions are without any large-scale effect on a country, on the planet or on the cosmos, and this runs the risk of engendering in them a certain indifference."

He then noted, however, "that the smallest good act of a single person has a mysterious effect on social transformation and participates in the growth of everyone."

Environmental Awareness in Our Own Backyard

In March 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil tanker crashed into Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil along 1,500 miles of Alaska's coastline. As a result, an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles and as many as 22 killer whales died. Only two of the 28 species affected by the spill are considered to be recovered.

The Exxon Valdez crash was appalling. But every year more gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled fueling lawn equipment.

How often do we lament the depletion of the ozone, but refuse to give up driving our cars because it's an inconvenience? Save the redwoods, we rally, yet we watch acres of trees being cut down to accommodate new developments in our own towns and cities.

Caring for God's Creation

As Catholics, we are called to care for God's creation. In Ecclesia in America, the follow-up document on the Synod for America, the pope noted that every person has "concrete obligations in the area of ecology. Fulfillment of these obligations supposes an openness to a spiritual and ethical perspective capable of overcoming selfish attitudes and 'life-styles which lead to the depletion of natural resources.'"

The U.S. bishops are also doing their part to encourage environmental awareness and action among Catholics. In 1991, the bishops addressed the issue in Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on the Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching. The statement challenges each of us to consider seriously how we can live in harmony with God's creation and pass on our mutual heritage to future generations.

As a means of achieving those goals, the bishops developed the Environmental Justice Program (EJP), in conjunction with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) in 1993. The program, which falls under the U.S. Catholic Conference's Department of Social Development and World Peace, seeks to educate and motivate Catholics to a deeper respect for creation and to engage parishes in activities aimed at dealing with environmental problems, particularly as they affect the poor.

One of the grants this year was awarded to the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, for its program "Canticle of Creation: A Catholic Response to Creation." The grant is for six to 10 parishes in the city to participate in a yearlong environmental justice leadership program for parish youth and adults. (More information about the EJP and other grant winners may be found at:

Environmental awareness and action have also become a part of the U.S. bishops' Jubilee Pledge, urging those who sign to "care for creation." But the pledge, the bishops say, is "not just about signing a piece of paper. It's about action."

So Where Do We Start?

In the Jubilee pledge, the bishops offer a wonderful set of stepping-stones to get started: pray for God's creation; learn about Catholic teaching on environmental issues; reach out to those most affected by ecological problems—the poor and powerless; live in ways that protect and preserve the environment; serve those who are affected by environmental justice issues; give generously to programs that work to protect the environment; advocate public policies that protect and preserve the environment and its natural resources; and encourage others in your parish, especially young people, to develop an attitude of respect for God's creation and a desire to take action.

We must also remember, as Pope John Paul II said in Ecclesia in America, "All people of goodwill must work to ensure the effective protection of the environment, understood as a gift of God."

Caring for the environment starts with one recycling bin, one compost pile, etc. It means walking an extra few feet to throw your garbage or litter into the proper receptacle instead of on the ground. Or it means making an effort to attend public meetings when zoning variances are decided and plans for new business and housing developments are made.

Caring for the environment begins with each one of us. Remember, "Think Globally, Act Locally" should be more than just a slogan. Are we each doing our part?—S.H.B.

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