Food or Fuel? The Biofuels Debate

29 April 08 | Posted in Food, Vatican

The Holy See is asking for measures to keep the production of biofuels from bringing about increased food prices to the point of threatening starvation in many countries.

Monsignor Renato Volante, the permanent observer of the Holy See at the Rome-based U.N. Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO), participated in the FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, which was held in Brasilla, Brazil, April 14-18, 2008.

Monsignor Volante proposed that the production of biofuels should not bring about a decrease in the production of agricultural products destined for the food market. He called on the states to consider options, keeping in mind the “essential objective” of protecting and ensuring the right to food.

Biofuels are energy sources produced from a variety of different plants or plant products. Many developed countries have begun subsidizing the production of biofuels, which has resulted in decreased production of typical plant foods.biofuels.jpg

U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged a coordinated effort to face the steeply rising price of food, which he said has developed into a “real global crisis.” He said some 100 million of the world’s poor now need aid to be able to buy food. Riots have broken out in some countries, such as Haiti, over the increased prices.

Religion, Politics & Climate Change

“In past elections, voting guides for Catholics, written from both ends of the political spectrum, have focused on hot button issues like abortion, gay marriage, war and economic justice. The environment, if mentioned at all, has been an afterthought. But the increasing urgency of climate change and its potential to generate catastrophic consequences for human life and civilization make this election different. This time, the environment is front and center.”

“The environment has long been a poor stepchild within Christian theology, and the Catholic Church is no exception. While Catholic social teaching has not wholly ignored the issue, the major social encyclicals of the twentieth century largely failed to tackle the question of our obligations toward the Earth. Although by no means hostile to environmentalism, Catholic social teaching consistently failed to place ecological concerns at the center of the church’s attention. Recent years, however, have seen signs of a shift in attitudes…”

Read the rest of this great article by Eduardo Penalver in Commonweal.penalver-eduardo1.jpg

Our Green Pope

23 April 08 | Posted in Global Catholic, Global Climate Change, Vatican

“I think this pope recognizes that for this and the next generation, it may very well be that global warming is the most important international moral issue that faces humankind,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine, America.

Pope Benedict is not the first pope to talk about the environment – his predecessor, John Paul II was an avid outdoorsman who also expressed alarm about global warming.

But experts say the pope is taking on the issue from a pulpit no one in the world can match – leader of the 1.1 billion member Roman Catholic Church – with a seriousness that is outdoing even John Paul II.green-pope.bmp

“His vocal support particularly for climate solutions could really tip the balance in world action,” said Melanie Griffin, national director for the Sierra Club. “He’s not mincing words.”

In his first homily, Pope Benedict XVI declared that “the Earth’s treasures no longer serve to to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.”

The pope presents climate change as a moral issue, warning that environmental neglect  especially hurts the poor and vulnerable.

Besides Genesis, Benedict and others in the church pushing for an ecological tie to faith have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi, who lived a simple life respectful of the land and wildlife.

“The Catholic Church and Benedict have never been called trendy, but their concern for the environment is an extension of what we believe about creation and what we believe about the creator,” said John Carr, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops office of justice, peace and human development.

Population control, including immigration, are issues many environmental groups believe are central to habitat protection and conservation of resources.  Their stances often go up against Church teaching on birth control and social justice.

But they have found common ground on protecting the earth from rapacious development. “The Catholic Church is not the Sierra Club at prayer, but we do share a commitment to the Earth that is based on a commitment to creation,” Carr said.

Tobernalt Well

20 April 08 | Posted in Global Catholic, Saints, Spirituality

This month I went with 24 other members of my parish on a week’s pilgrimage, “Ireland – Faith & History.” We generally followed in the footsteps of St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland. This former slave fled and then returned to bring Christianity to the fabled isle.  He was captured by raiders sent by one of my ancestors, Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Their second patron saint, in whose steps we criss-crossed, is St. Brigid. She was the daughter of a Christian slave and an Irish chieftain. Brigid defied her father by refusing to marry, and instead trooped off with a pack of female friends to live together as a religious community. By accident (or not) she was reputedly ordained as a bishop. St. Brigid is associated with fire and milk – no doubt from her time spent in fosterage with a druid priestess.

Both Patrick and Brigid are associated with holy wells. We had Mass at one of them – Tobernalt Well – near Sligo. This hillside site is just off a small road into the woods. Over time this site has become a sacred grove, with banks of votive candles flickering on the pathways above the well. The effect is enchanting; a blend of natural and Christian divine energy.dsc00299.JPG

The healing stone in the center of the grove has been used as an altar for centuries; perhaps millenniums. It is located just below the well itself. It has a depression at one end where you can rest your back for back pain. On top of the stone are four indentations, said to have been left by St. Patrick’s fingers. If you rest your fingers there, some of the saint’s power is transferred to you.

I walked down the several steps into the well and dipped my hand in the water to bless myself. A clear, pure stream rushes from the source. There is a tradition that the well contains a sacred trout. I believe it – the water is cold enough to support trout.

Fr. Tom began the Mass by reminding us the site was used by Catholics to practice their faith in secret when the area was under the domination of protestant overlords. We need to remember the persecution they endured, their struggle and sacrifice, and never take the practice of our faith for granted. Today, this means standing firm instead of worrying that in some circles our faith might be considered a bit…uncool. (You actually attend Mass? Really?)

I love having Mass outdoors. Sensing the presence of God in all the elements, I fully understand why the Greeks had their temples open to the sky.

The Communion of Saints felt real under the canopy of trees. We stood with all the people who ever came to this sacred place to worship. Several local people who had come to the well joined our group at Mass. They included an elderly man who pushed his wife in a wheelchair up the stony path; a mother holding a baby and chasing a youngster who delighted in skipping around the shrine; a middle-aged woman and her dog, and two young men who knelt to light candles.

After Mass was over I followed the stream to see if I could see the sacred trout.  I didn’t find it, but I’m sure it was there, waving its tail slowly in some shadow.

Canadian Bishops Publish Pastoral Letter on the Environment

18 April 08 | Posted in Global Catholic, Stewardship

In a new pastoral letter on the environment, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says that while scientific and technical developments can help in restoring the environment, “we will not succeed without a personal and collective conversion.” This conversion is aimed at healing “the ruptures we have created with nature, with our neighbor and with God” through humanity’s role in air, water and soil pollution, destruction of the ozone layer, deterioration of large ecosystems and reduced biodiversity. “We must re-establish the links with nature that we have damaged. We know that we are tied much more closely to the environment in which we live than we had imagined.”inuksuk.jpg

The letter, titled “Our Relationship with the Environment: The Need for Conversion” stresses to “convert is also to regain a sense of limit. It means adjusting our lifestyle to available planetary resources. Many are not renewable, and those that are have a pace of regeneration too slow for our impatient natures.”

“Since over consumption and waste have become a way of life, conversion implies that we free ourselves collectively from our obsession to possess and consume. In the words of renowned ecologist Pierre Dansereau, ‘joyful austerity’ or voluntary simplicity will help us to reorient ourselves on being instead of having. Our humanity will gain in the process.”

“It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to squander available resources, while masses of people are living in conditions of misery at the very lowest level of subsistence. Today, the massive threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness–both individual and collective–are contrary to the order of creation, an order which is characterized by mutual interdependence.”

But the bishops also noted some favorable developments: “Growing numbers of individuals are agreeing to make personal efforts in favor of the environment,” including using public transit, decreasing and recycling waste, purchasing local and regional products and produce, and lowering the thermostat at home. “Ecological awareness is emerging and becoming a fact of culture.”

Unfortunately, their otherwise excellent letter didn’t cite any examples of what is being done by individual bishops at their chancery or in their diocese.  In their role as teachers, how do they encourage conservation and care for the environment in say, religious education and faith formation programs? Are they willing to chastise Catholic politicians who have poor environmental voting records?