The Standing Rock Sioux, other indigenous people, and their allies come to Washington, DC to speak with policy makers about their sacred duty to protect the water, the land, all of creation. We are invited to join them in “standing up like a mountain” with our own prayers, advocacy, and public witness.
Women in Africa are courageously speaking out about their particular concerns in areas scarred by mining, and are pointing the way to a future of smaller-scale extraction of natural resources that benefits local communities and minimizes impact on Earth. We pray that their voices are heard in discussions about implementing global goals for sustainable development.
Residents of Flint, Michigan, have been dealing not only with contaminated water but also with the psychological ramifications of knowing that authorities ignored a massive public health hazard for far too long. We pray that we heed this warning, that we hold our elected officials to greater account and take actions on our own when necessary to protect our land, water, and communities.
The Internet, social media, and a fast-paced lifestyle too often cause relationships – with people, with Earth, and with God – to suffer. We repent that we’ve neglected our neighbors, the communities most impacted by extractive industries, and all creation. Mercy Sister Edia Lopez, who ministers with the Ngäbe people of Panama protesting a hydro-electric dam that threatens to flood their cultural heritage, calls us to change the nature of our relationships in order to achieve a new type of development that benefits people and Earth.
The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies, collectively known as the water protectors, were praying for months to change the minds and hearts of policymakers determined to build the Dakota Access Pipeline near the tribe’s lands. Their pleas at the construction site against both the desecration of their land and the potential risk to the water supply for millions of people were met with violent repression by a militarized police force.
Berta Caceres was a leader of the Lenca people in Honduras and a human rights defender who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. She is among more than 120 people who have been killed in Honduras since 2010 for taking a stand against dams, mines, logging, or agriculture on their land – murdered by state forces, security guards, or hired assassins. Countless others have been threatened, attacked, or imprisoned.
As we begin this novena for Earth Defenders, let’s remember Pope Francis’ challenge, that we keep in mind the needs of vulnerable communities and future generations, and repent for the voracious greed of ever-expanding development that threatens their health, culture, and territories. Indigenous people often take the lead in sounding the alarm, and the tearful words of native activist and environmentalist Casey Camp-Horenek on the impacts of fracking in her community in Oklahoma offer us such a warning.
At first blush, environmental justice may sound nonessential to a life of faith. Many Catholics aren’t exposed to spiritual reflections on God’s creation or questions of environmental care at mass or during formation programs like confirmation or RCIA. When the conversation does come up, some argue that environmental justice is just not as important as other pressing concerns.