A Steadily Declining Bird Population

4 October 19 | Posted in Animals, Garden, Spirituality, Stewardship

I have kept a backyard bird log for over a decade.  I note species, habits and any special occurrence—like hawk kills, mating pairs, the first bird of spring, sightings of rare birds like orioles. In the last few years I have seen less birds, different species and changes in feeding habits.

I was surprised to read an article on declining bird populations in the September 19, 2019 edition of the Wall Street Journal.  “Bird Populations Plummet in North America” the headline reads.  The Journal isn’t given to hysterical climate change stories, but the writer reported an alarming story.

Anecdotes from bird watchers and guesses among scientists led researchers to guess bird populations had declined; but the loss was much greater than originally speculated.  Ornithologists from Cornell University reported that North America’s overall bird population had dropped 29% since 1970, with about three billion fewer birds now than nearly 50 years ago. Their study was published in the September edition of Science magazine.

Researchers attribute the decline in grassland birds to the broader impact of climate change, deforestation and shifts in agricultural practices. Habitat loss and the use of pesticides also had an impact on their decline.  Grassland birds, which include species like finches and sparrows, saw its overall population fall 53%.  The decline in this group in particular surprised researchers, since these birds are known for their adaptability to human landscapes.

I keep my lawn chemical-free to protect bees, water, and “helpful” insects like spiders, ladybugs and praying mantis from indiscriminate spraying.  However, birds live in a wider area than my yard and many have not returned.  Personally, I have no doubt that the decline in these birds is due to the impact of all the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides homeowners and farmers pour on their land every year.

Have you noticed any changes in bird population or behavior in your yard, local park or farm?

Sabbath for the Environment: Stop, Disconnect, Rest

21 September 19 | Posted in Bible, Spirituality

Exodus, Chapter 20 – “Remember the Sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God! You shall not do any work, either you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” 

When I was growing up, The Lord’s Day was easier to observe.  We went to church, had Sunday dinner together, and most of the stores were closed. The week’s activities didn’t stop, but they slowed down.  By the time I reached college in 1970, many of the blue laws banning liquor sales had lifted, more stores and restaurants were open, and families had more cars.  Life started to speed up.

Over the next decades, the pace of life quickened. Weekends often became a period of intense activity. I used the time to catch up on email, home projects, volunteer work, socializing and travel, to the point that I was often relieved to get back to work on Monday. Fierce competition in the marketplace taught me to practice a ruthless time management—make every minute count to catch up on work or move a project forward. Letting available time go without doing anything “productive” was inefficient, even lazy.  Immediate access via mobile devices and social media brought its own set of demands and obligations.

With the advent of email, the web, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and online shopping, life has sped up to the point that there isn’t any break from work or social activity. This level of frenetic activity finally becomes soul-numbing.  There is no escaping it except to stop, unplug and disconnect.

After many years of being afraid to take the step, I decided to observe The Lord’s Day. It’s hard to stop even though I want to change. It’s scary for me to let the day unfold without planned activities. How will being in the present moment affect my focus? How will my relationship with myself and with God change?

What would happen, if several million other Christians made the same decision to observe The Lord’s Day?  If we stopped driving, buying, and turned off our computers on Sunday?  What effect would that have on energy consumption?  Would it be a Sabbath for the environment?

Like Lent, the Sabbath offers the opportunity to move towards renewing and deepening our faith rather than just “giving up” some treats or behaviors as a way of observance.  Fr. James Kurzynski, a blogger at Sacred Space Astronomy and a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin offers a valuable suggestion:

“As I have been prayerfully considering how best to keep holy the Sabbath, I’m feeling moved to use my day off as an opportunity to explore my love of music and astronomy. As I shared with you in previous posts, I had a wonderful vacation in Phoenix, Arizona after the Faith and Astronomy Workshop. After hiking up Superstition Mountain and recording music in a beautiful bowl-shaped canyon, I am now inspired to relive this experience as part of my Sabbath rest. To do this, I want to combine my love for the outdoors, music and astronomy into a creative endeavor to help feed me spiritually.”

Before committing to observe the Sabbath, I thought a lot about its meaning and impact. It can change how I live my life and use my time, not only on Sunday but throughout the week. That idea fills me with some anxiety, but I’m willing to make that change.

Here is how I plan to observe The Lord’s Day:

  • Participate at Mass
  • Spend time outdoors
  • Read
  • Write in my journals and blogs
  • Reflect on my use of food, water and natural resources

What I will suspend for the day:

  • -Email & Facebook
  • Shopping
  • Household chores and errands
  • Wearing a watch
  • My daily “To Do” list

Additional Reading:

And God Saw that it was Good – Pope Francis

Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home – Pope Francis. (Chapter Six, Ecological Education and Spirituality, VI. Sacramental Signs and the Celebration of Rest. 237.

Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy – Pope John Paul II

U.S. Catholic – 7 Ways to Refresh Your Sabbath – Jessie Bazan

The Sabbath as a Basis for an Environmental Theological Ethic  – Michael Wood

The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time – Judith Shulevitz

And On The Seventh Day: Astronomy and Sabbath Rest – Fr. James Kurzynski

Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology

On October 15, 2017 Pope Francis announced a special synod on the Pan-Amazonian Region to take place in Rome.  It is scheduled for October 6-27, 2019. 

The synod arose out of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, “Caring for Our Common Home,” which called for action on global warming, environmental pollution and pinpointed the Amazon region as a chief area of concern.

The Pan-Amazon region spans over two million square miles within nine countries, including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. It is home to 33 million people, among them 3 million indigenous people representing 400 different tribes.  It is the source of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, one-fourth of all oxygen and more than one-third of global forest reserves.

Taking part in the synod will be bishops from the nine countries encompassing Amazonia, presidents of the seven bishops’ conferences, and representatives of non-governmental organizations that work in the region.  Chief among them will be REPAM, or Red Eclesial PanAmazonica, an ecclesial network of bishops created in 2014 to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon. It is backed by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. Caritas Internationalis is a founding member. REPAM embodies the promise Pope Francis made in the Amazon town of Maldonado, Peru to affirm “a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

The 16-page preparatory document for the synod was published on June 8, 2018.  It was written by the Vatican’s office for the synod with the help of an 18-member council appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the 2019 meeting.  The synod council included three cardinals, 13 bishops, one nun and a layman.  Most members are from countries in the Amazon region.  The document is organized as a Preamble, Section I – Seeing, Section II – Discernment, Section III – Action, and Questionnaires that were widely circulated to provide material for each of the three sections.

The synod’s preparatory document makes clear that central issues will focus on environmental protection, the rights of indigenous people, and evangelization. But what is articulated within these issues will ignite change not only in the Amazon, but throughout the Catholic Church.

It is obvious that most pundits from Europe and North America who follow church happenings did not read this document carefully. If they did, they would be shocked. This synod is not about a group of natives in the Amazon rainforest with a few mentions of climate change thrown in. Pope Francis and the Synod Council are attempting to shift Catholic culture and religious practice from the Euro-Centric and clerical sub-culture model to one drawn from values and cultures based in the Southern Hemisphere, with ripples extending to Africa and Asia. Europe’s domination of 1,000 years is ending.

The clash of values that dominates so much of the Euro-Centric Catholic Church today will be subsumed into other cultural debates. There, they may find a new voice, fade away or be viewed as irrelevant. How important are religious liberty, same-sex marriage, denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, sex abuse and cover up, women priests, married priesthood, conscience rights, “authentic” Catholic definitions, and “reform of the reform” of Vatican II in Amazonia?  Newer issues like racism, rights of indigenous people, migrants and immigration, gender theory, LGBT civil rights, lay involvement, habitat protection, and economic equity should get more traction, but the results will be a mixed bag of blessings for both progressives and conservatives. 

Here is what I see emerging from the Amazonia Synod:

  1. A new emphasis on “Integral Ecology” – everything is connected
  2. Evangelization as an accompaniment to where people are physically and spiritually
  3. Older married men ordained as priests to administer the sacraments
  4. Increased role in ministry and governance for women
  5. A cultural and spiritual sift away from a Euro-centric Catholicism

Each of the sections of the preliminary document has markers and flashpoints intimating where Pope Francis and the Church are heading with this Synod.

  1. Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia

“Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory. Such interests lead, among other things, to the intensification of indiscriminate logging in the rainforest, as well as the contamination of rivers, lakes and tributaries (due to the indiscriminate use of agro-toxins, oil spills, legal and illegal mining, and byproducts from the production of narcotics.) Added to this is drug trafficking, which together with the above puts at risk the survival of those peoples who depend on the region’s animal and plant resources.” 

“For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, the good life comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, and with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator.  Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders – called interchangeably “payes, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

2.Toward a Pastoral and Ecological Conversion

“This social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”

“Integral ecology, then, invites us to an integral conversion. This entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, failures and omissions by which we have harmed God’s creation and leads to heartfelt repentance.  Only when we are aware of how our lifestyles – and the ways we produce, trade, consume, and discard – affect the life of our environment and our societies can we initiate a comprehensive change of direction.”

3. New Paths for a Church with an Amazonian Face

 “The Church is called to deepen her identity in accordance with the realities of each territory and to grow her spirituality by listening to the wisdom of her peoples. Therefore, the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region is invited to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its people.”

“In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood.  This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of “a Church with a native face.”

“It is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values.  Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life.”

The Synod’s preparatory document cites a wide swath of church documents, three provide the biggest stamp:

  1. Laudato Si – (“Praise Be to You”) The 2nd encyclical of Pope Francis has the subtitle, “On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, Pope Francis critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, and laments environmental degradation and global warning. It calls on the peoples of the world to act. The encyclical was published on June 18, 2015.
  2. The Aparecida Document – This document summarized the 2007 meeting of CELAM—the regional Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting was held in Aparecida, Brazil, and was chaired by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.  In the document, the Latin American bishops expressed what they believed to be keys in keeping Catholicism alive and relevant in Latin American.  Those “keys” included a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, and a serious concern for the environment.
  3. Pope Francis’ January 19, 2018 Address to the Indigenous People of Amazonia at Maldonado, Peru – During his trip to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis met and addressed thousands of native Amazonians in an indoor stadium at Puerto Maldonado, a city on Peru’s Amazon frontier. It is the capital of Madre de Dios, a region plagued by illegal mining and human trafficking. In his remarks, the pope noted that the “native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present.”  He spoke about threats from extractive exploitation, environmental contamination and illegal mining. He also addressed the oppression of native people by certain policies and movements under the guise of preserving nature that deprive them of their land, natural resources and livelihoods.  Pope Francis promised participants to affirm a “whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

There are several key players in the development of the Synod Council and preparatory document. Since I don’t read Spanish, and there is very little coverage of South America by U.S. journalists, I may have missed a few names but I believe I netted the biggest fish.

Pope Francis

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, when he was named 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, the first pope from South America, took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy.  The first Jesuit pope, Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and from 1973-1979 was the provincial superior for Argentina.  Prior to his election as pope, Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998-2013.  He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.  In his six years as pope, Francis has championed the world’s poor and marginalized people, emphasized mercy over rules, and been actively involved in environmental advocacy and political diplomacy.

“We are not faced with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

 Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

Cardinal Baldisseri has served as general secretary of the Synod of Bishops since September 21, 2013.  He introduced and explained in depth the Amazonia synod’s preparatory document during the Vatican press conference on June 8, 2018.  Hand-picked by Francis to reorganize the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri is a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps.  He has served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal and Brazil (2002-2012). In Brazil, he negotiated an agreement regulating the juridical status of the church.

“Although the theme refers to a specific territory, such as the Pan-Amazon region – and this is why we speak about the “Pan-Amazon Synod” – the reflections that concern it go beyond the regional context, because they regard the whole Church and also the future of the planet. These reflections are intended to bridge to other similar geographical realities such as, for example, the Congo basin, the Central American biological corridor, the tropical forests of Asia in the Pacific, and the Guarani aquifer system. This great ecclesial, civic and ecological project allows us to extend our gaze beyond their respective borders and to redefine pastoral lines, making them suitable for today’s times. For these reasons too the Synod will be held in Rome.”

 Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Pope Frances chose Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes to serve as regulator general of the October synod on Amazonia.  The nomination of the 84-year-old retired archbishop of Sao Paulo was announced at the Vatican on May 4, 2019. The regular is responsible for providing a comprehensive outline of the synod’s theme at the beginning of the meeting and for summarizing the speeches of synod members before work begins on concrete proposals for the pope.  Cardinal Hummes was a former perfect of the Congregation for Clergy and has been a close friend of the pope since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Cardinal Hummes currently serves as president of REPAM, or the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica (or Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.)  Founded in 2014, REPAM is a network backed by the Latin American Bishops Conference to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.  Caritas Internationalis is a founding member.

“Back in 2015 the pope started to tell me, “I’m thinking of convening a meeting of all the bishops of Amazonia. As of yet, I don’t know what type of meeting or assembly, but I think that it could even be a synod.” He said to me, Let us pray about it together, and he began to speak to the bishops, to the episcopal conferences of the Amazonian region, about how to have an assembly, and so in his heart there grew the idea of a synod, and eventually in 2017 he convoked it.  We have worked hard for the synod, and we will continue to do so in this very important service for the future.  The synod serves to find and trace new paths for the Church.”

 “We know now there is another step to take: we have to promote an indigenous Church for the indigenous peoples, to help give birth to and nurture the growth of an indigenous Church. The aboriginal communities that hear the Gospel proclamation in one way or another, and that embrace it, which is to say, they welcome Jesus Christ, have to be able to ensure that, through an opportune process, their faith can become incarnate and inculturated in their traditional reality.  Then, in the context of their culture, identity, history and spirituality, an indigenous Church can arise with its own pastors and ordained ministers, always united within itself, and in total communion with the universal Catholic Church, but inculturated in indigenous cultures.”

 Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno

A Jesuit, and archbishop of Huancayo, Peru since 2004, Cardinal Barreto is vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference.  He is also vice president of REPAM (Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica).  According to Cardinal Barreto, “new paths” will be defined during the synod, directed toward care for creation and evangelization.

Cardinal Barreto has long been a proponent of environmental protection.  Back in 2005 he told his brother bishops during a synod that bread and wine offered at the altar were no good if the land they came from was not properly cared for. “I said that if we offer bread from land that’s contaminated, we are offering God a contaminated fruit. And the same for wine…I remember that the bishops looked at me as if they were saying, ‘What does the Eucharist have to do with ecology?’”

“Too many people think the indigenous in the Amazon are savages with nothing to teach us. ..as one Amazonian indigenous person told me, the savages are the ones who wear suits and ties and have money because they not only exploit natural resources irrationally but also expel (the indigenous people) from their territories and allow those from the outside to attack their culture simply to profit.”

 General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira

 Augusto Heleno is a Brazilian politician and retired general. He was military commander of the Amazon and chief of the Department of Science and Technology of the Army.  He was chosen by Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, to head the Institutional Security Cabinet, an executive level office of the federal government responsible for assistance to the president on matters of national security and defense policy.

Bolsonaro campaigned on promises to end protections of the Amazon rainforest and limit Brazil’s indigenous peoples’ rights to designate land in the river’s sprawling basin as preserves.  In one of his first acts as president, he gave responsibility for indigenous preserves to the Agriculture Ministry, which is seen as heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

A major Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported on February 10, 2019 that the synod has become a national concern for the Brazilian government. General Augusto Heleno was quoted in the story as saying, in reference to the synod, “We are worried about it and want to neutralize it.” The government’s strategy for neutralizing the Amazonia synod reportedly includes planting intelligence agents to monitor preparatory meetings and putting diplomatic pressure on the Italian government to intercede with the Vatican to avoid, or at least tone down, criticism of Brazil’s Amazon policies.

“There are foreign (non-governmental organizations) and international authorities who want to intervene in our treatment of the Brazilian Amazon…I’m worried that this Synod is going to interfere in our sovereignty.  We know what we have to do.  We know how to do sustainable development, to stop deforestation.”

Mauricio Lopez

Mauricio Lopez is the executive secretary of REPAM.  He was the one lay person appointed to the Synod Council by Pope Francis. Lopez grew up in Mexico and was educated in Jesuit schools.  He and his wife, who is Ecuadorian, moved to Ecuador over a decade ago.  In 2009, he took a trip to the part of the Amazon basin that sits on Ecuador’s eastern borders.  “I came by bus from the highest mountains with snow,” he described, and suddenly I entered this beautiful place, where I saw the biggest river, the entrance into the Amazon, and how the flora and fauna were always changing as we went down, down, down. The temperature changed radically, and I felt, too, a change within me,” he said.

“The Amazon reality requires us to be a braver and more prophetic church.”

 The Amazonia initiative brings back an echo of my own past. 

Back in the mid-1970s, as a young woman in Alaska, I fought for large tracts of Alaskan lands to be preserved as wilderness areas–national parks, refuges and monuments. I wanted government agencies to insist on environmental protections for areas that were mined, logged or slated for oil and natural gas extraction. The native peoples of Alaska—Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Athabascan, Inupiat and Yupik were different, but each group was deeply connected to the land by a deep love for it, cultural heritage and identity.  One connection was through the subsistence lifestyle—fishing, trapping, hunting and harvesting on their ancestral lands.

During that time, I never heard a religious person—priest, religious sister, bishop, pastoral associate, anyone—speak up for Alaska natives or for wise natural resources management.  At that time, the Catholic church made no connection between Nature and Faith.  I missed having my faith strengthen my environmental activism and support for native land rights; and my love for the land and forest strengthen my spirituality and religious conviction.

It now seems like a dream come true; one I have waited almost 40 years to see. Thank you, Pope Francis, and everyone who is making the Amazonia Synod happen.  I’ll be praying for you and us.

 

 

Garden Retreat

8 June 19 | Posted in Garden, Saints, Spirituality

For me, God and Nature are intricately bound. I feel God in a storm. I am in awe of God in a mountain. But I love God in the serenity of a garden. My restless soul is at peace in its borders.

I had originally planned to construct a “Biblical herb garden” or a monastery herb garden, but I dispensed with the raised bed and the limited selection of herbs. I wanted to include tomatoes and peppers, so good to eat in summer. The borders are rocks and old bricks or pieces of brick I picked up during walks along Peconic Bay.  I threw in some oyster shells and interesting pieces of driftwood. 

My garden is a balance of religion and whimsy– full of herbs, gnomes, saints, cement ducks, vegetables and sayings by spiritual people. The quotes serve to remind me of Catholicism’s spiritual connection to Nature, and the presence of God in everything around us. My favorites are:  “We always plant better than we know.” – Sr. Julia McGroaty, a founder of Trinity College, Washington, DC (my alma mater). “God is a God of Surprises.” – Pope Francis.  “Remember who you are and whose you are.” – Sr. Thea Bowman, a religious woman I admire for her courage, patience, and faith.  I hope she is named a saint.

Maurice the Octopus

29 May 19 | Posted in Animals, Events, Food, Spirituality

I have had a number of thought and soul changing experiences with animals.  I loved like a family member most of our dogs–especially Winston and Cutie. Constant in their affections, they taught me love and emotions are not limited to human beings. DOG really is GOD spelled backwards. Seeing a great horned owl against the moon in Pennsylvania is an image that will always stay with me.  Hand feeding two baby robins from a ruined nest was a bonding experience. I wanted them to remain wild, so I never named them or kept them in the house.  Each night I would put them in a short white pine to roost. I could recognize their peeps above the forest cacophony.  I was sad when they departed, but happy I helped them to live. From time to time I would see a robin come close and look at me intently.  I wondered if that was one of them, or one of  their babies coming to check out the legend of the Mother Giant who brought their ancestors from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and fed them worms, oatmeal and mashed cherries.

In March 2019 I met Maurice at the Kanaloa Octopus Farm in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.  This aquaculture project began in an effort to help preserve and increase the declining reef octopus populations.  A demand for octopus for food and bait has had a severe impact on their numbers. Scientists are trying to learn how to successfully breed octopuses for food and fishing and leave the wild ones alone.  They are making progress, but haven’t been successful yet.

Maurice was rescued from a fishing boat where he was about to become bait or dinner.  He is now part of the Kanaloa experiment.  Visitors to Kanaloa get to interact with the octopuses.  We discovered each one has their own individual traits and personalities.  Some are curious, shy, grumpy, reclusive, aggressive, clever or playful.  I’m sure there are more parts of their character, but those are the ones I observed in my hour at the aquaculture farm.

After wiggling my fingers in the water to mimic a fish, Maurice came up from the bottom of his tank to investigate.  He gently touched my fingers.  I gently touched his tentacle.  It was very smooth.  The encounter reminded me of the fresco painting of Adam and God in the Sistine Chapel.  One touch changed everything.

Ever since I met Maurice I cannot eat octopus and would never use them for bait.