Fr. Brian Gleeson CP is a Doctor in Theology and has spent the last few years lecturing at the Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Australia. I recently invited him to write an article on a topic of his choosing for our JPIC Blog. He chose to write on his thoughts concerning the environmental challenges he saw for Papua New Guinea, which is part of our Holy Spirit Province and where we look after the Parish of Boroko, in Port Moresby, and have a mission in Vanimo. His submission is as follows:
We’ve all heard, and heard with genuine sadness, of the Passion of Jesus Christ. We are well aware of our own sufferings, and to some extent the sufferings of whole populations of people such as those in Syria and Iraq. What we need to become far more conscious of, however, is the passion of Mother Earth, the one and only planet inhabited by human beings, the one and only place where human beings can live, the one and only place where God has put us. In most countries of the world today, Australia included, there are terrible problems with air, water, soil and vegetation. But in this short reflection, I want to single out for special concern, the land and people of our near neighbour, Papua New Guinea, a land of shared concern for Australian Passionists, as it has been mission territory for us since 1955.
Not being a citizen and never a missionary there, I cannot claim to be fully informed of conditions there, but over three visits in recent times, the following represents some of my impressions concerning environmental challenges and threats to the integrity of God’s creation there. In one of my classes to fourth year students in September 2013, in order to raise consciousness that moral evil (sin) is not just individual and personal, but social (something shared), the following exchange took place between the 25 young men preparing to be servant leaders (priests) in PNG and myself. The following is some of what ensued:
BRIAN TO STUDENTS. Today, in your beautiful country and mine, our environment is being exploited, assaulted, ravaged and destroyed at a rate unprecedented in history. So, more than ever before, concerned people, and not just Christians, are asking questions of survival and sustainability: Is it all over? Or is there something practical we can do to save God’s good, graced and beautiful world, not only for ourselves but for the children and all the generations of human beings who will come after us? The monster out there, that is attacking Creation (Nature) left, right and centre, is like that dragon of the Book of Revelation (12:7-12). It needs to be slain, slain fast, stopped in its tracks, to bring an end to the terrible damage being done to the goodness of God’s creation for the wellbeing of all the peoples of the earth.
Creation is a precious gift from our Creator that has to be loved, respected and protected. Pope John Paul 11 was very aware of the terrible damage being inflicted on the Earth our home, and so he called for what he termed “ecological conversion”. What he meant is a change of mind, heart, and lifestyle in order to care for the Earth and everything to do with it, What he was up against, as we are too, is abuse and exploitation of our air, water, soil and forests.
STUDENTS’ RESPONSES: I put this question to them, and asked them to answer it in writing: – ‘Name some of the ways in which “ecological conversion” is urgently needed now in PNG.’ Here is a sample of their replies:
- Mining with the chemicals being used is damaging the landscape and the soil.
- Factory and other industrial emissions are poisoning the air and atmosphere.
- Soil and water are being polluted by the waste allowed by mining companies to infect waterways and ultimately the oceans. Fish in the waters and other forms of marine life are dying from the chemical waste destroying their natural habitats. Chemicals have also been harming the drinking water of people along river banks.
- Foreign timber companies are logging by clear-felling every tree in the path of their bulldozers. All trees are being cut down whether big or small. In the long run good rain forests may turn into deserts and barren landscapes.
- We must preserve our forests so that birds, animals and human beings can all make use of them for sustainable living.
- New trees need to be planted where the vegetation of forests has been ruthlessly gouged from the landscape.
- Asian fishing companies have been over-fishing in ways that are unsustainable. They have been trawling the ocean floor, and in the process wiping out the precious turtles that provide nourishing food for coastal people and their families.
- Many fishing and shipping companies have been polluting the waterways with spent fuel they discharge from their boats and ships.
- Rising sea levels in some coastal villages are threatening to flood residents out of their homes. Growing mangroves along the shore would offset this damage.
- The litter of plastic bags Is choking some forms of marine life when they find their way into creeks, rivers and oceans.
Our exercise concluded with this Prayer to St Michael, the Archangel, as Guardian and Protector of PNG:
St Michael the Archangel, change any hearts that remain stoney, cold and indifferent concerning the threat of a massive environmental catastrophe here in our land. Help all of us to see that God’s grace and gift of creation is something precious – one to be preserved, loved, respected and protected. AMEN.