The executive director of a Canadian ecumenical justice coalition contributed a passionate voice Wednesday, August 10, to an international panel in Montreal calling for basic change in attitudes on environmental and social issues.
Jennifer Henry, executive director of KAIROS urged that attention be paid to Aboriginal women who have long sought action on environmental issues.
“There are people who can see what we are doing to God’s body,” she told about 150 people at a discussion at Laudato Si‘: A Call for Change, one of many events at the World Social Forum, which brought over 15,000 people from around the world to the city.
Henry, an Anglican, joined four activists from Roman Catholic development organizations in Honduras, Nigeria, Brazil and India in a discussion of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on environmental issues issued over a year ago.
Henry said she was “surprised, with a sense of hope,” to see the Pope and other religious leaders “intentionally putting their shoulders to the wheel in the interest of the great turning that we need.”
She singled out mining by Canadian companies in countries in the Southern Hemisphere and their impact on local populations and the Earth.
“Aggressive extractivism is neo-colonialism,” she said. “Cultural genocide and ecocide are deeply connected.”
Shalmal Guttal of India, executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South said it is often Indigenous people and the poor who are bearing the brunt of climate change.
She said a high-growth high-consumption promoted by “a mafia of people with a lot of money” is leading to the alienation of humans from nature in a society where “nothing is sacred anymore, that the market does not enter into.”
The Rev. John Patrick Ngoyi, director of the Commission for Justice and Peace, Nigeria, says the current shift to secularism is undermining the social justice message of the church.
“Those who have a new religion called neo-liberalism have a field day. God is no longer the creator; what matters is profit.”
He said the church, once preoccupied with helping the faithful confront personal sin, is now dealing with structural sin and ecological sin in society.
Moema de Miranda, a member of a Franciscan lay order and an anthropologist with the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis, said the bad living conditions of many in her country demonstrate a need to “listen to the way of nature, of creation, of Gaia, of Mother Earth.”
“What has happened to us?” she asked, replying that much of the problem goes back to a dualism originating with such writers as St. Augustine.
“We need to convert our minds and hearts,” she said. Pope Francis’ encyclical points the way, although even he fails to recognize the important role women should play in this, she said.
The Rev. Ismael Moreno Coto, of Fundacion ERIC/Radio Progreso, Honduras, said the Pope’s encyclical is important not only for the church but for a world “heading for the cliff” environmentally.