Bishop Bastes vs. the Mining Industry

12 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Stewardship

Filippino Bishop Arturo Bastes is leading a campaign by Catholic clergy to shut down a gold and copper mine on Rapu-Rapu Island in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes hounded the mine’s Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and is now working on shutting down the new owners–a consortium headed by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp. bishop-bastes.jpg

In the process, Bishop Bastes–with the support of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines–risks thwarting a plan by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself a Catholic, to tap the Philippines’ mineral wealth to help lift the country out of poverty.

Bishop Bastes is following a global trend of Catholic clergy taking on mining, especially in Central America.  Priests in the Honduras are protesting open-pit mining techniques and mining-rights laws which they say grant too many benefits to foreign mining companies.

When the church began campaigning against mining in the 1980s, more than 50 mines operated in the Philippines, contributing a fifth of the country’s exports. The number of mines decreased to 12 in 2003 as opposition intensified.

“It’s written in the Bible,” Bishop Bastes says, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: “Do not defile the land where you live and dwell.”

Environmentalists and activists such as Jaybee Garganera, of the Philippines’ Anti-Mining Alliance, credit Bishop Bastes and other church leaders for turning mining into a mainstream issue. “It’s debatable whether we would have gained the same traction without the Church,” Ms. Garganera says.

The Rapu-Rapu mine was supposed to illustrate the Philippines’ new pro-mining policy. But the Australian founder of the project, Lafayette Mining, Ltd., felt the brunt of Bishop Bastes’ force when it began operations in 2005.

“Our project became politicized very quickly,” said David Baker, who took over the management at Lafayette in 2006 after a chemical spill at the site killed thousands of fish. That incident enabled Bishop Bastes and others to successfully petition the Philippine government to order the mine closed. Lafayette eventually sold the mine in 2008 to a South Korean and Malaysian consortium headed by LG International, headquartered in Seoul.

Bishop Bastes and his allies have marched on the South Korean embassy in Manilla to protest the resumption of mining and are tapping environmental experts to expose the dangers of chemical leaching from the project. “Mining is the cause of all the trouble,” Bishop Bastes said. “God created the world for people to enjoy, not for miners to destroy.”

Honoring Sr. Dorothy Strang

28 September 08 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic, Social Justice, Stewardship

Call to Action’s 2008 Leadership Award will be given posthumously to Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy “Dot” Strang, shot to death February 12, 2005 in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Strang spent 40 years in Brazil defending the rights of peasant farmers and protecting the environment. dorothystrang.jpg

Honoring Sr. Dorothy is uniquely appropriate at this year’s CTA conference, which places “Our Earth” at the center of our efforts to “Embrace the Beloved Community.” The conference is scheduled for November 7-9, 2008 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Affectionately known as the “Angel of the Amazon,” Strang worked tirelessly to empower the peasant settlers of the Amazon. She educated them about land tenures and the importance of protecting their homes in the rainforest. Together with the Brazilian government, Sr. Dorothy and the peasants created and eventually succeeded in implementing the first viable sustainable development project – a new model for the future.

A citizen of Brazil and the United States, Sr. Dorothy worked with the Pastoral Land Commission, an organization of the Catholic Church that fights for the rights of rural workers and peasants, and defends land reforms in Brazil.

Her death came less than a week after meeting with the country’s human rights officials about threats to the local farmers from loggers and large landowners who coveted the resources on their lands.

It has been estimated that 15,000 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest are lost every year to clear cutting and cattle pasturing. This is an area about the size of the state of Massachusetts. Another 7,000-15,000 is also lost to timber harvesting. Environmental degradation of the water, soil and animal habitats accompanies the logging.

Strang was shot six times at point blank range and left to die on a muddy road. The killers were paid $40 for her murder.

Commenting on the threats shortly before her death, Strang said “I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers to live without any protection in the forest.  They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.”

Her brother, David Strang, and the superior of her community, Sr. Joan Krimm, are planning to attend the CTA conference to accept the award in Dorothy’s honor. Also hoping his schedule will allow him to attend is actor and Catholic peace-justice activist, Martin Sheen. Sheen is the narrator in a new documentary film, They Killed Sister Dorothy.

The Green Priest

26 September 08 | Posted in Lifestyle, Stewardship, U.S. Catholic

Fr. Tom Lisowski is becoming known as the “green priest” in Springfield, Massachusetts. He tools around town on his electric bike.

“The increasing gas prices were a factor,” said Lisowski, but most important was the issue of stewardship. “It’s all about doing the best I can, any way I can, to promote the kingdom of God on earth. I try to do positive, life-giving things.” bike-priests.jpg

His desire to be a good steward goes beyond his e-bike.

“I have a 55-gallon water drum that collects water from my rain spouts.  I use this to hand-water my garden,” he said.

On a 100 x 150 foot city lot, Fr. Lisowski has an 8 x 20 foot garden. In it he grows tomatoes, cucumbers, snap peas, asparagus, okra, summer squash and zucchini. “I harvest enough for me to eat with plenty left over to share with my neighbors and friends.”

Fr. Lisowski said by scooting around the city on his e-bike he also finds he is doing a little evangelizing.

“There’s a mailman I pass at least twice a day and each time he sees me he gives me the thumbs up and a ‘God bless you,'” Lisowski said.  “People love to see a priest right there on the streets and it provides for a lot of opportunity for hand waving and talking.”

He added he does his own cooking, shopping, laundry and yard work. “I try to live the life that reflects the lives of the people I serve. I think it brings some substance to my work and my homilies,” he said.

We need more priests like Fr. Lisowski. 

Father, I’m sending you a cheer and a hand-wave from here. Keep up the good work.

Picking Up Litter

16 September 08 | Posted in Lifestyle, Spirituality, Stewardship

One spiritual task I perform every weekend is to walk up and down my block and pick up litter. litter.jpg

Discarded cigarette packs, Arizona Ice Tea and beer bottles, Vitamin Water empties, junk food wrappers, styrofoam clam containers, candy wrappers, nickel and dime bags, ripped out school notes and assignments, half-eaten apples, broken Bic lighters, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups, gum wrappers – I collect it all.

Most of the trash is from high school kids–boys and girls–black, Hispanic, and white, that are too lazy to put it in the trash can by their school.  They just drop it when they finish it.  Most of the crumbled up cigarette packs are from one Newport smoker.

I pick up trash to keep my block clean.  The dirtier it is, the more people feel free to throw stuff on the ground.  When the ground is litter-free, at least some people think twice before dropping an empty cup.

A few months after I started picking up, I noticed that some other people were taking care of the street, too.  My next-door neighbor has started picking up trash, and so has a woman down at the end of our street. 

Picking up litter is a small but tangible way to respect the land and neighborhood, and keep it a beautiful place.

Catholics on Climate Change

The Catholic Committee on Appalachia is distributing a 10-minute DVD for religious education classes, “Climate Change: Our Faith Response.”

A statement issued by the committee says the DVD presents “the irrefutable science behind global warming, how it will affect the poor and humanity’s moral responsibility to act.”

The committee is composed of the bishops, members of religious communities and lay leadership in the 27 Catholic dioceses in the Appalachian region.

“We hope (the DVD) raises awareness about creation as a precious gift from God and how climate change will particularly affect the poor and vulnerable,” said Fr. John Rausch, the committee’s director. rausch_tour.jpg

“Unless we change our wasteful lifestyles, we’ll reject God’s gift and the poor will be the first to suffer,” he said.