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. 


I learned to swallow the pride that robbed me of a compassionate heart, to put party and ideological affiliations aside to see others as children of God first.


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.