Amid continued Midwest flooding, Catholic groups step up to help

Nebraska photoFlooding in Bellevue, Nebraska, March 2019. Credit: Aspects and Angles / Shutterstock.

By Michelle La Rosa

Omaha, Neb., (CNA)- As devastating flood waters continue to rise in parts of the Midwest, Catholics are working to raise funds for both short-term aid and long-term rebuilding efforts.

“Please join Archbishop [George] Lucas in praying for all those displaced or otherwise affected by the ongoing flooding,” said the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.

A special collection in Omaha this weekend will help fund recovery efforts. Parishes have been asked to evaluate needs in their communities and request funds for both immediate recovery needs and long-term rebuilding.

“Grants may be distributed to purchase water, food, shelter, cleaning supplies, tools, building materials, and tuition assistance for displaced employees,” said archdiocesan spokesman Deacon Tim McNeil said.

He added that funds can go not only to the immediate needs of parishes, but to help with broader community assistance.

Nebraska has been among the hardest-hit states by severe flooding in recent days, although several other Midwestern states have also been affected as a “bomb cyclone” tore through the region last week, bringing with it strong winds and heavy rain. The floods that have resulted have washed out roads, destroyed homes, and burst dams, compounding the damage throughout the area.

The majority of counties in Nebraska are currently under a state of emergency, as are nearly half of the counties in Iowa.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the storm has already caused “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced.” Repairing damaged infrastructure could take months, and agricultural losses in ranching and growing crops could reach nearly $1 billion.

As residents scramble to evacuate, watching their livelihoods wash away in front of their eyes, their neighbors are doing what they can to offer support.

Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska is currently holding a bottled water drive to help students at Peru State College, who have been displaced for several days and are facing contaminated water for the foreseeable future.

The organization is also accepting donations to aid those who are suffering from the flooding.

“It is at times like these that we are all called to help our friends, relatives and neighbors who are suffering,” Catholic Social Services said in a statement. “Please help us help those who have lost so much.”

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska, is teaming up with Bethany Lutheran, Brookside, Peace Presbyterian and COPE to help with long-term rebuilding support for flood victims.

Proceeds from the March 15 Lenten Fish Fry at St. Patrick’s were donated to flood relief efforts.

Meanwhile, northwestern counties in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are in the path of the flood waters.

“The towns are preparing,” said Kevin Murphy, executive director of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities in the diocese.

He told CNA that the major highway in the area has been closed, as the Missouri River is expected to reach near-record flooding levels.

Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph could also be feeling the effects of the flooding in a very direct way – the organization’s satellite office in Buchanan County sits just about 5000 feet from the river.

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” Murphy said.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, offered his prayers as the floods continue, while also calling Catholics to participate in relief efforts.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the flooding throughout the Midwest these past few days,” he said in a March 19 statement.

The bishop prayed “that those affected by the floods will find the strength to rebuild.”

“We trust that the Lord will console them in their suffering,” he said. “Let us answer the Lord’s call to love one another and generously support our neighbors in this time of need.”

He noted that Catholic Charities USA is collecting funds to help flood victims throughout the entire region.

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/amid-continued-midwest-flooding-catholic-groups-step-up-to-help-64023

Filth, mold, abuse’: report condemns state of California homeless shelters

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A man sleeps on the sidewalk in Hollywood. Tens of thousands of people are homeless in California. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Carla Green in Los Angeles

When she first moved into the Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter, Jan was optimistic. The southern California homeless shelter, which had just opened a couple months prior, seemed clean and well-organized. “It was so fun,” she said. “There was karaoke.”

But things quickly went downhill, said Jan, who asked that we only use her first name for fear of retribution over speaking out about the shelter conditions.

“Within a month, everything was rotten,” she said. “There was filth and mold and abuse by the staff. Mold on the floor of the bathroom, mold by the microwave … The only time it looked nice was when somebody would come to see it, like the media or someone from the board of supervisors.”

Bridges at Kraemer Place is one of three California shelters condemned for its bleak conditions in a new report from the ACLU. All are in Orange county, one of the wealthiest counties in California, which has been ravaged by a homelessness crisis. Last year there was an outcry after bus stops abutting Disneyland, one of the county’s largest employers, were stripped of benches that homeless people slept on, and local authorities were criticized for evicting hundreds of people living in a riverbed without offering them an alternative place to stay.

The ACLU report details a dizzying list of abuses and unlivable conditions, as reported by shelter residents, volunteers and staff.

The shelters were racked by infestations of rodents, roaches, bedbugs and other pests, and plagued by a culture of neglect and abuse by shelter staff, the report alleges.

“The shelters … fail to conform to standards set forth by international human rights law, which establish the minimum standard of living adequate for health and well-being,” its authors write.

“To the extent that the county or its agents have subjected people experiencing homelessness using emergency shelters to foreseeable harm and failed to intercede, it is responsible for state-created danger.”

The report includes a list of 10 recommendations to improve shelter conditions, including uniform health guidelines and due process for sanctions within the shelter system.

In response to the report, the county issued a statement saying officials are “committed to ensuring our emergency shelters are safe for all our clients”, and that they would take time to review the report before responding in detail.

This is not the first time that Orange county has been criticized for its treatment of the homeless.

Homeless advocates say the county and its cities are violating their responsibility to provide housing – or, at a minimum, shelter beds – for people living on the streets. Both the county and several of its cities are facing lawsuits alleging that they are mistreating homeless residents, in part by failing to provide enough shelter beds for them.

But the ACLU report demonstrates that itis not just the availability of shelter beds – but the quality of the shelters themselves – that’s important.

“Some of these violations [are] so egregious that they’re just hard to digest,” said Eve Garrow, a policy analyst at the ACLU of Southern California and co-author of the report.

Shelters are supposed to be humane places that actually help people and help them recover from life on the streets,” she said. “It was rather shocking to find out that not only were these shelters not living up to their promise, they’re actually harming the people they’re supposed to be serving.”

In a few cases, residents have died on shelter premises. The report notes that there were seven recorded deaths at one shelter, and another four people who died either in transit from the shelter to the hospital, or upon arrival at the hospital from the shelter.

It wasn’t long after Jan moved into Kraemer Place that she saw her first death. The man who died had been a friend of hers, she said. His name was Robert Estle.

“He said to me ‘If I don’t get out of here ‘into housing’, the only way I’ll get out is in a body bag,” Jan said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

Estle died in a shelter bathroom in April 2018. Jan knew something was wrong when the bathroom door was locked overnight, she said.

“I’d been telling [shelter staff], ‘break down the door, something’s wrong’,” she said. “They didn’t do anything.”

When they finally opened the door, Estle was found dead, Jan said. Kraemer Place did not respond to a request for comment.

Igmar Rodas is a former resident of The Courtyard, another shelter profiled in the ACLU report. Rodas, who identifies himself as a homeless advocate and reporter, was living in his car before he moved into the shelter about three years ago. He saw similar conditions to what is detailed in the report, he said, “especially around the port-a-potties, it was full of feces. Varmints, rodents, roaches”.

Residents’ personal property was kept in trash bins, Rodas said. “One time I saw this big old rat coming out of one of the trash bins.”

“Let me put it this way. I interview people, and I ask them ‘why don’t [you] stay at The Courtyard?’ You know what they say? ‘I feel safer on the streets’.”

The Courtyard referred a request for comment to the statement issued by Orange county.

Both Rodas and Jan have moved into housing now – “by the grace of God, I got out”, Jan said – but because of their experience with the shelter system, they have both dedicated themselves to changing Orange county’s shelter system for the better.

“Now I’m blessed, but not everyone’s blessed,” Jan said.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/16/homeless-shelters-orange-county-aclu-report-condemns

Australia Aboriginals win right to sue for colonial land loss

imageChris Griffiths and Lorraine Jones were two of the plaintiffs who brought the case to court [Northern Land Council]

By Bill Code

Sydney, Australia – The  High Court of Australia has handed down the biggest “native title” ruling affecting Aboriginal ownership of the land in decades, amid claims that billions of dollars in compensation will need to be paid by governments to indigenous groups.

“Native title” refers to the rights of Australia’s indigenous people to their traditional land and water recognised by Australian common law.

Lawyers, including those representing mining companies, said the ruling in favour of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Aboriginal groups – from a remote part of the Northern Territory – paved the way for billions of dollars in compensation nationally.

“The High Court’s decision will likely to trigger compensation applications from many of the hundreds of native title holder groups around Australia,” said Tony Denholder, in the wake of a case that a federal court ruled on in 2016 – before the High Court became involved.

The Native Title Act came about after the landmark “Mabo” decision in 1993 overturned the British claim that Australia was “terra nullius” – nobody’s land. It found that Aboriginal rights to some, but by no means all land, survived colonisation and were not “extinguished”.

Since then, Aboriginal groups have been able to file native title claims over large parts of the country.

Now, the High Court has handed down another landmark ruling on the matter of paying compensation for the loss of those rights – the loss of economic income related to the land and the loss of a spiritual connection to the land. Or in other words, putting a financial price on the severing of cultural ties.

In 2016, the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Aboriginal groups awarded $2.3m in damages because the federal court found that their native title rights were “extinguished” by the Northern Territory government when it built roads and infrastructure through their country near Timber Creek in the 1980s and 90s.

About $1m of that was for “spiritual harm”, which the Northern Territory and Federal governments argued was excessive. But the High Court this week disagreed.

Megan Brayne, a native title lawyer and director of the Comhar Group, told Al Jazeera it was the most important native title ruling in more than 20 years.

“This is a very important case because it is the first time the High Court has set out the principles for compensation. State lawyers will be particularly interested in analysing their compensation liabilities,” she said.

“Where companies are operating on land post-1975 there will be lawyers looking at this.”

Racial discrimination act

That 1975 date is key because it is the year Australia brought in the Racial Discrimination Act – 18 years before the Native Title Act, but just as important.

“Only then did governments have to treat the property rights of Aboriginal Australians the same as other Australians,” explained James Walkley, a native title lawyer with Chalk and Behrendt.

“Since the first colonisation of Australia, Aboriginal people have been dispossessed of property and culture, [but] only since 1975 has the loss of native title become compensable.”

Unwittingly, state and territory governments, or mining and pastoral companies working with the blessing of the government, continued to “extinguish” native title by their activities, right up until that landmark Mabo ruling and the Native Title Act in 1993.

Others step forward

The Ngaliwurru and Nungali groups were assisted in their fight for compensation by the Northern Land Council – the major Aboriginal representative group on land matters in the Northern Territory – which took the case to court.

Interim CEO Jak Ah Kit confirmed other groups were in the works waiting to take advantage of the ruling.

“Already I’ve been notified of other groups,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is a ruling that brings a different light on native title and the cultural and spiritual loss, let alone the inability to take any economic opportunities [from the land]. We need to revisit those cases where they were unjustly compulsorily acquired by governments, and we’ll then need to take instructions from them,” he said.

“The whole board game changes.”

Brayne said while the ruling provides “significant guidance” in looming court cases, there were still many matters left open by the case, not least how to determine the appropriate amounts of compensation.

She remained hopeful agreements could be found before the more costly path of litigation.

“If not, we can expect there’ll be more matters before the courts,” said Brayne.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/australia-aboriginals-win-sue-colonial-land-loss-190315062311052.html

Catholic leaders speak out against ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy

imageCredit: Herika Martinez /AFP/ Getty Images

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders released a statement this week in disagreement with the United States’ expansion of a policy that restricts asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We oppose U.S. policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting to access protection in the United States. We urge the Administration to reverse this policy, which needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols,” the statement read.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, released the joint statement on March 13.

First implemented in January, the Migrant Protection Protocols require asylum seekers at the San Ysidro border crossing to remain in Mexico while immigration courts process their case – a procedure that may take years. In previous administrations, asylum seekers were often permitted to remain in the U.S. while awaiting their court dates.

The U.S. government announced Tuesday that the program would now be expanded to the border crossing in Calexico, which is about 120 miles outside of San Diego. Department of Homeland Security officials stated that 240 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico since the policy was enacted. They anticipate that the number will grow significantly as the program expands.

In February, a lawsuit was introduced in federal court challenging the policy, which is known unofficially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The suit claims that the program puts asylum seekers at risk because of Mexico’s dangerous conditions. A federal judge has not yet announced whether an injunction will be granted to block the policy while it is being considered in court.

The Associated Press reported that Mexico’s Foreign Relations and Interior departments objected to the policy update, which they say was made unilaterally by the United States. However, citing “humanitarian reasons,” the departments said a majority of the asylum seekers returned to Mexico will be allowed to stay.

Vasquez and Callahan also voiced opposition to the policy, emphasizing the rights of the people seeking shelter from harsh conditions, especially from the dangers witnessed in Central America.

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement read.

The Church leaders reiterated the call of Pope Francis to protect and welcome immigrants and encouraged the government to respond with policies that best promote human dignity.

“Our government must adopt policies and provide more funding that address root causes of migration and promote human dignity and sustainable livelihoods,” they said.

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-leaders-speak-out-against-remain-in-mexico-policy-59110

Bishop objects to death sentence for Filipino woman in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia photoSaudi Arabia flag. Credit: Hugo Brizard/YouGoPhoto/Shutterstock.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, (CNA). A bishop in the Philippines is speaking out against the death penalty of a Filipino woman who has been condemned to death in Saudi Arabia.

“We turn to God in prayers that He may move the [Saudi] government to be merciful and grant clemency,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Filipino bishops’ Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, in a statement this week.

“She has to be helped and assisted. Let us try everything to save her,” he said, according to the Manila Bulletin.

On Feb. 28, the Saudi Court of Appeals upheld the death sentence of an unnamed Filipino woman, who was convicted in 2017 for killing her employer. The woman claimed to have acted in self-defense against an abusive employer.

Santos encouraged the Philippine government to do whatever it can to save the woman and conduct a “thorough investigation” behind the woman’s arrival in Saudi Arabia. Reports suggest that she arrived in the country as a minor.

“Placement agencies should be made accountable for whatever happens to [Filipino workers] sent to other countries,” the bishop said, according to the Manila Bulletin.

He stressed that agencies and recruiters should be held liable for abuse of the employees they place.

ABS-CBN News reported that the case has also been directed to the chair of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Trafficking, which is part of the Philippine Department of Justice.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Friday it would do all it could to save the woman, who has so far been assisted by Consul General Edgar Badajos.

The department released a statement saying it “will exhaust all diplomatic avenues and legal remedies to save a Filipina in Saudi Arabia after the Saudi Court of Appeals affirmed her death sentence on Thursday.”

The case followed an execution in January, when a 39-year-old maid from the Philippines received the death penalty for a murder that took place in 2015. Details about the case were not released.

About 500,000 Filipinos are believed to be working in Saudi Arabia, a country that has long been accused of poor work conditions and inadequate religious freedoms.

In 2016, Bishop Santos had encouraged the Philippine embassy in the country to protect Filipino workers. That year, a Filipino woman had died as result of the injuries she received from rape, allegedly at the hands of her employer.

That same year, a mass execution of 47 men was carried out in Saudi Arabia in January. One of the men was Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shi’a cleric and long-time activist for Shi’a rights in the country.

Princeton Professor Robert George, then-chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the execution of Sheik al-Nimr raised religious freedom concerns and did not meet capital punishment standards set by the international human rights law.

 

 

 
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/bishop-objects-to-death-sentence-for-filipino-woman-in-saudi-arabia-53659

Can they save us? Meet the climate kids fighting to fix the planet

Climate kids photo Main image: Rose Strauss, a member of the Sunrise movement, in Santa Barbara, California. Photograph: Alex Welsh/The Guardian

by Adrian Horton, Dream McClinton and Lauren Aratani

Despite being barely two years old, the Sunrise Movement has outpaced established environmental groups in the push to radically reshape the political landscape around climate change.

Closely allied with new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youth-led Sunrise Movement has helped set out a sweepingly ambitious plan to address climate change in the form of the Green New Deal. Activists have ramped up pressure on lawmakers to back the plan, staging a high-profile occupation of the office of Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and, more recently, picketing Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader.

The movement comprises a small core team of young organizers, supported by a larger group of several hundred volunteers. The group’s elevation of the Green New Deal has clearly riled Trump, who has falsely but repeatedly claimed that the plan would result in the banning of cars, air travel and even cows.

The Guardian spoke to Sunrise members on how the organization has shaken the political and environmental establishment in the US.

Marcela Mulholland, 21, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A few days after Trump won, I just felt super radicalized. I couldn’t believe that climate change was happening and people were pretending as if we weren’t on this downward spiral. So I went to school wearing a sign that said “Climate change is real.” My teacher is a huge environmental activist and she told me about Sunrise.

I took the fall semester off from school to volunteer full time with them, working on the midterm elections in Orlando, Florida. We were knocking on a lot of doors, talking to people about the candidates that we endorse because they had either signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge or had climate policy.

Fossil fuel money in our politics is the main obstacle to climate policy, in my opinion. There’s only so much that public opinion can do if the politicians are bought out by fossil fuel billionaires and executives.

When you look at the polling of public opinion on climate change and the Green New Deal specifically, it’s clear that the public is already with us on this issue, it’s just a matter of turning passive supporters into active supporters.

I feel like young people have always played the role of moral clarity and being willing to be idealists about what the world should be like. I see my generation as picking up the baton from young people in the 1960s and in the civil rights movement who engaged in similar efforts. We totally see our struggle as rooted in the past activism of young people.

Rose Strauss, 19, San Anselmo, California

I grew up next to the ocean in the Bay Area. I was so sure I would become a marine biologist up until two years ago. Studying marine animals is my passion. But as I was walking along the beach year after year I realised the animals I was trying to study were disappearing faster than I could study them, which was really scary. I learned about climate change when I was 12, doing a report on the Canadian seal hunt, and I realized it was one of these issues that you can’t note and do nothing.

Doing nothing is a death sentence to my generation

I had to get political. I’m Jewish, my (extended) family was in the Holocaust. I was brought with the belief that if you become aware of something, you have a responsibility to take action.

In 10 or 11 years, when climate change is irreversible, I’m going to be trying to have kids or get married … that definitely changes the way I can talk about this issue. This is literally my future and you doing nothing is a death sentence to my generation.

Even with young people, there’s always this tendency to want to compromise, to want to talk to people and come to an agreement. That’s a really hard thing to step away from. What we found in Sunrise is that drawing a line in the sand is something that needs to be done sometimes. We can’t have a compromise on stopping climate change – we either stop it or don’t.

You should be a little bit scared if you haven’t endorsed the Green New Deal, because young people aren’t going to vote for you. We aren’t going to be behind you, You can’t claim to be environmentalist if you don’t do this. That’s the line we’re drawing, which is really helpful.

Lily Gardner, 15, Lexington, Kentucky

I grew up in eastern Kentucky. There, I couldn’t escape the generational poverty caused by the fossil fuel industry. A lot of my friends’ parents were unemployed, there were no coalmining jobs. But we’ve known that the end of coal was coming for awhile.

When my mom moved to eastern Kentucky 30-plus years ago, people told her that there were only 30 years left of coal in these mountains. But no one made any preparations. Instead, they just started to deny, and people sunk deeper into poverty. So by the time I was a child, these families had barely enough food to put on their table because they weren’t receiving Black Lung benefits, because they had family members who had died in the mines. I even had friends who were turning to opioids because they were so disenfranchised, discouraged and dismayed that they were going to end up like their parents.

People are not climate deniers because they don’t believe in facts, people are climate deniers because they’re so afraid that they cannot confront another thing that is going to put them deeper into poverty.

Climate change is something that disproportionately impacts my generation. We’re feeling the burden of it, so it makes sense that I would care the most. But I think it’s really difficult to get politicians and legislators to take our voices seriously, especially because they believe that we do not have any voting power.

I think there’s a misconception that we’re advocating for something that’s unattainable, that we are throwing ourselves out there, that we’re becoming extreme, when we’re not. We are advocating for what is necessary to ensure that I have a livable future at all.

Jeremy Ornstein, 18, Watertown, Massachusetts

Sometimes it’s hard because people don’t take us seriously. A lot of us who are going to be most heavily impacted by climate change can’t vote. I couldn’t vote until six months ago.

We want to be part of the debate which we’ve been excluded from because we don’t have the money to buy in to elect politicians who will back us. When politicians don’t listen and don’t represent us, we have the ability to say, “OK, we’re going to show up at your office.”

We’re telling them to go, go, go because we don’t have time to do it any other way

I was there that night when Scott Wagner called Rose Strauss “young and naive”. It was so defeating for me. The next day, it was like “Oh my God, it’s happening.” It picked up steam, and then we were so energized and excited. Not everyone’s story will go viral. But the more stories we have, it’s like a moral, emotional, value-driven path forward for our country.

My official role is helping to put on a tour for the Green New Deal. We’re taking the Green New Deal to every city and town across America, first in seven or eight flagship stops in places that represent real political leadership or really devastating climate impact or economic inequality.

We’re giving anyone who wants to do this the blueprint, and we’re telling them to go, go, go because we don’t have time to do it any other way.

Saya Ameli, 17, Boston, Massachusetts

The first thing that I saw looking out of the airplane window [when I moved to the US] was just how green Boston was. I saw all the trees, the bushes lining the sidewalks. It was a really stark contrast from Tehran. My family and I used to go hiking in the hills behind my Tehran house and once we got to the summit, we just saw this almost gray canvas covering the city. Looking up, we saw the blue sky.

It made me realize that it could be different. With a little more government regulation, awareness and action, we could change the way the city looks and feels.

The movement really has grown since it’s started out. Just looking back in November, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came out with the Green New Deal. Sunrise was able to send hundreds of people to Washington DC to support her and advocate for the Green New Deal.

Senator Mark Houston has been really helpful and the Massachusetts lead on supporting the Green New Deal. Just a few days ago, Sunrise actually took to his office to thank him and his staffers for their support. The only legislator left on the lower level for Massachusetts is Representative Richard Neal. Currently, Sunrise is at his office, asking him to sign on.

It really is too late to have a debate on whether or not climate change is a hoax, especially when we’re already seeing people suffering the consequences; my heart goes out to all those people that have their school torn down or their houses broken because of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

If our leaders aren’t willing to really address the crisis that we’re facing right now, then they need to be replaced.

People say that young people are naive or too inexperienced but every time we get something done, we prove that we aren’t that stereotype. We may be young, but we are not naive. We understand the real-life consequences of climate change on our present and future, and we’ve decided to do something about it.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/04/can-they-save-us-meet-the-climate-kids-fighting-to-fix-the-planet

Church advocates: Latin Americans understand God’s presence in nature

Latin America photoMembers of a rescue team pray before working in a collapsed tailings dam owned by a mining company in Brumadinho, Brazil, Feb. 13, 2019. (Credit: CNS photo/Washington Alves, Reuters.)

By Barbara Fraser

LIMA, Peru – Throughout Latin America, people whose lives and land have been affected by industries that extract natural resources, such as mining or oil operations, find strength in their spirituality, church leaders say.

“In many communities, there is a profound bond between the people, as community, and the presence of God expressed in the land, the trees, the rivers,” said Moema Miranda, a lay Franciscan who heads the Churches and Mining Network in Latin America.

That understanding has become stronger since Pope Francis issued the encyclical Laudato Si’, “on Care for Our Common Home” in 2015.

“Pope Francis says that everything is interrelated, and that human beings have an intrinsic value” that is often overlooked in cases where mining companies come into conflict with local communities, Miranda said.

The most recent example was the collapse of a dam that sent a flood of toxic water and mud cascading through a valley in Brumadinho, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Jan. 25.

The disaster at the Vale mining company’s Feijao Mine left more than 150 people confirmed dead and at least as many missing in what Brazilian Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte called “a criminal tragedy.”

“The bodies of the human and nonhuman victims remain buried and probably will never be found,” Miranda said at a Feb. 20 panel discussion, part of a workshop on extractive industries and spirituality organized by the Churches and Mining Network.

“This is not an isolated case,” she added, noting that the collapse of a similar dam at another mine owned by Vale, BHP Billiton and Samarco flooded the town of Bento Rodrigues in November 2015, killing 19 people and sending a cascade of polluted mud down the Doce River.

Viewing those disasters and others in light of Francis’s call to safeguard “our common home” leads people of faith to ask “what kind of house do we want to build in Latin America?” said Italian Scripture scholar Sandro Gallazzi, who works with the Brazilian Church’s Pastoral Land Commission in the northern city of Macapa.

Noting that the prefix “eco” comes from a Greek word meaning “house,” Gallazzi said economic decisions reflect “how the (home) should function.”

“The economy clearly favors the interests of a small minority of people at the cost of the suffering and exploitation of thousands upon thousands of people,” he said, echoing the pope’s words.

The economic boom that began in Latin America in the early 2000s spurred an expansion of mining and oil and gas concessions in the region, with governments saying the export of raw materials like minerals yielded revenues necessary for reducing poverty in their countries.

“But in many communities, people say, ‘I want my land, not to get money from it, but so I can continue to have clean water, or (they say) I am rich, I have a good life because I have forest. I’m not interested in (the company’s) money,’” Miranda said.

That has led to conflicts between mining companies and communities throughout the region.

In Peru, nearly two-thirds of the conflicts affecting communities involve environmental issues, said Javier Jahncke, executive secretary of Peru’s Muqui Network, part of the Churches and Mining Network.

Latin America’s mining regions tend to be places where people are affected by other violations of their rights, Miranda said. The areas are often home to small farmers and lack good transportation, education and health services.

The Churches and Mining Network, which began work in 2014, grew out of an awareness that “resistance in defense of life in general is grounded in spirituality,” she said.

The ecumenical network now includes about 70 religious communities and church groups in 15 countries.

The members engage in dialogue with bishops about issues related to mining and extractive industries, Miranda said. The network also provides training to people who live in communities affected by mining, to help them understand and defend their rights.

That activity is increasingly dangerous for grassroots leaders who protest the construction of mines, dams and other large-scale infrastructure projects, or the clearing of forests for industrial ranching and farming.

Global Witness, a London-based nonprofit organization that tracks violence against environmentalists, recorded 201 murders in 2017, of which 57 occurred in Brazil. That is also the country where Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was killed in 2005 for defending the rights of small farmers against ranchers in a remote area of the Amazon.

Despite the political and economic power behind projects that threaten their lands, people say “we won’t leave this place,” Miranda said. What gives them strength, however, is “not just a rational principle – it is a profound connection to the place where you are, to which you belong, and a response to a cry that comes from the earth, but which is heard by God.”

 

 

 

 

https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-americas/2019/02/25/church-advocates-latin-americans-understand-gods-presence-in-nature/