Columbans congratulate Middlesbrough Diocese for new Environmental Policy

23rd April 2018 - by Fr Denis Carter

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Inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, Middlesbrough Justice & Peace Commission has produced an Environmental Policy for the diocese. Ellen Teague, Columban JPIC, spoke at the launch, held on Saturday at All Saints’ School in York and attended by around 50 people, who received an attractive flier about the policy. Margaret Blatchford of Middlesbrough J&P sent this report.  

Speakers applauding the initiative were Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC and local MP Rachael Maskell, formerly the shadow minister for the environment. The first liked the opening message of the policy: An invitation to our diocesan community to praise God for the gift of our beautiful planet and to share the Care of ourCommon Home. Rachael Maskell felt the Churches have the important role of reminding politicians to cherish Planet Earth’s natural systems and she reminded that York has been prone to flooding in severe weather. “Can I congratulate the Diocese of Middlesbrough for this initiative and for taking the steps necessary to enhance our planet” she said.

Barbara Hungin, Chair of Middlesbrough J&P, explained the hard work of Commission members to produce the policy and that the event contributed to activities around the globe for Earth Day on 22 April. She said that the policy would be distributed to schools and parishes throughout the diocese and is intended as a catalyst for action. It contains suggestions for action on an individual, parish and diocesan level: stalls at the launch included alternatives to the plastic which is now so much in the news, green energy, protection of bees, Fair Trade, Eating less Meat, CAFOD/ Live Simply. Posters by All Saints School on the importance of reducing waste and recycling provided an appropriate backdrop. Action by York’s St George’s School to ban single use plastic, recycle batteries and plant trees was affirmed. More broadly, the Commission will stay in touch with the Global Catholic Climate Movement which is playing a leading role in the Catholic response to Climate Change.

Bishop Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough said on Sunday: “I am very grateful to the Middlesbrough Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission for offering to us this environment policy, so easily accessible and attractively produced. It is based on the document of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, On Care for our Common Home. This Encyclical is so rich in wisdom and insight and develops the guidance of previous popes on Ecology deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. I commend this work to all the people of our diocese and beyond, to our parishes and schools in particular, in the hope that it will encourage us all to pray, reflect and engage in action to better care for our God-given Earth.”

For young people, the future of their planet home is of even greater significance and their participation in this mission of the Church is crucial. The York meeting heard from four refugee young people from DR Congo now living in Middlesbrough. They drew attention to crises in their homeland, particularly huge areas of peatland containing the equivalent of 20 years of US emissions, that are threatened with exploitation and deforestation by the Chinese. If the carbon gas is released it would be catastrophic for the planet. They intend organising a conference in Middlesbrough to highlight the issue.

Ellen Teague highlighted the fragility and vulnerability of the planet and the evidence of the effects of climate change on the very poorest communities. She emphasised the need to make the connections between poverty and the environment. We must “hear both the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor”. Ellen countered any inclination to despair with many examples of individuals, schools and parishes where the challenge to take action rooted in faith is bearing fruit. Live Simply status, recycling, solar panels on church properties, community gardens, tree growing were amongst initiatives highlighted. Our liturgies should alert us to the care of God’s creation and our clergy and laity need to be trained in creation-centred theology. 1 September has been designated by the Pope as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, initiating ‘Creation Time’ running until the feast of St Francis on 4 Oct. All parishes were urged to participate. A Columban stall provided study materials.

let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan

Our Popes have long been leading on this issue of overarching importance. From Pope John Paul II who called us to “an ecological conversion”, to Pope Benedict who took action in the Vatican installing 3600 solar panels, and now with Pope Francis who has made it the theme of his papacy, when on the day of his inauguration he made this plea:
“I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment”

Rachael Maskell MP spoke of our “precious and fragile planet in trouble” and praised the accessibility and wisdom contained in the diocese’s Environmental Policy. The silence among politicians on the subject is of concern and the churches have a role in provoking them to urgent action. “Our greed has broken our planet and our need will persuade us to restore it,” she said.

The Bishops Conference of England and Wales is encouraging every diocese to develop an Environmental Policy, in consultation with its J&P people. Middlesbrough, Salford and Hexham & Newcastle are the first to do so. The lead bishop is John Arnold of Salford. At their meeting last week, the bishops announced that a leaflet on Laudato Si’ will be sent out to every parish in time for the Day of Prayer for Care of Creation on 1 September.

Columbans are part of the National Justice and Peace Network Environment Group, which has supported dioceses in developing Environmental Policies.

Margaret Blatchford is a member of Middlebrough Diocese Justice and Peace Commission.

Pics: Carmelite Communications