Lima, Peru — After an oil spill fouled nearly 100 miles of shoreline north of Peru’s capital city, the bishop of Callao, the seaport where the accident occurred, called for officials to repair the damage and care for “our common home.”
In a Jan. 23 message, Bishop Luis Barrera Pacheco called for those involved to “assume their responsibilities and commit to the immediate solution of this huge environmental damage that puts life in danger.”
The spill, which occurred Jan. 15 as a tanker was offloading oil at a refinery, has left a tarry slick on beaches and wildlife. Less visible, however, is the long-lasting effect it will have on thousands of people who depend for food and a livelihood on the fish they catch or the shellfish and crabs they collect along the shore, Barrera told Catholic News Service.
“Those families have already seen a huge drop in their income,” he said. “And once the seabed is contaminated, those products lose their value in the market and harm those who eat them.”
The spill’s cause is being investigated. Initial reports said the tanker lurched and a pipe broke because of unusually high waves caused by the eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga.
Ocean surges killed two people and damaged homes and businesses in some coastal towns in Peru, which did not issue a tsunami alert after the eruption, unlike its neighbors Chile and Ecuador.
The local subsidiary of Spanish-owned Repsol, which operates the refinery, initially played down the spill, saying it amounted to less than a barrel, and blamed the Peruvian Navy for not issuing a tsunami alert. Government officials later put the amount at about 6,000 barrels and said the company had been slow to react.
“Instead of arguing and avoiding responsibility, it is urgent to repair the damage to the commons, the beaches and the marine species that belong to all Peruvians,” Barrera wrote in his message.
Besides fishing families, the spill is affecting people who live close to the polluted shoreline, breathing fumes from the oil slick, and those with small businesses that depend on summer crowds that frequent the beaches that are now off limits, the bishop told CNS.
In a country where most of the economy is informal, those people live on what they earn from day to day, and weeks or months without an income are devastating. The diocesan Cáritas office aids families in some of the poorest neighborhoods and is considering how to address the long-term crisis families will face.
“We don’t see the greatest impact yet, but in the long run, we’ll see the effect on people’s income, lives and health,” Barrera said.
The disaster offers a chance for politicians and civic groups to meet and discuss serious measures to clean up the environment in Callao, where residents of some neighborhoods have high levels of lead in their blood from inhaling dust from ore-loading facilities in the port.
“We need leadership from politicians so disasters like this are not repeated,” Bishop Barrera wrote. “We call on public officials to take an integral approach to environmental issues and to be concerned about the interrelated ecological, social, cultural and economic dimensions of creation.”
It certainly feels like a second plateau, without a down slope, three times as high as the first. The total number of cases of coronavirus tallied on 19 August in Peru was 558,420, with 53.8% in Lima and Callao, and 26,834 deaths. Gradually, with an increase in the Jungle and the mountains, the number of cases and deaths are almost equal between the capital and the rest of the country. For population size, we have the second highest death rate in the world! 25,500 children and adolescents have been affected, with 106 deaths and some children under five. The medical opinion here is that a child can spread the virus with much more impact, up to 100% more, so beware with the opening of schools!
We are now in a situation where we have to ride out the storm. Unfortunately, it looks as though it is going to last well into next year! The medical facilities available are overrun and the medical staff are exhausted. Covid-19 has increased to above 9,000 new cases daily. The number of deaths now averages 200 daily.
Those under 14 can go out for half an hour a day, accompanied by an adult, but those over 65 continue in lockdown. The curfew in Peru is from 10pm to 4am. Sundays have again been declared lockdown days and 6 departments (Arequipa, Ica, Junin, Madre de Dios, Huanaco and San Martin) are in full-time lockdown along with 34 provinces in other departments of the country. Family and other social gatherings have been banned and sporting events, which were to start, have been banned as are all religious ceremonies.
The cities in the Andes were not so badly hit until the inter-provincial bus services opened up in mid-July, and since then there has been a dramatic increase in cases. For example, in Cajamarca around 90,000 people returned there from Lima and Chiclayo. In the last two weeks the number of cases have doubled there and this is being repeated in many regions of the country, especially Loreto, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno and Ancash.
I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers are in virtual contact with the parents and through them with nearly 400 children. We have helped 44 families on two occasions, as they have little to no income and are desperate. The teachers are exhausted and worried. Last week two fathers of our Manuel Duato’s Friends over-18 Club, died of covid-19, leaving their adult children without the support and love they need. Five students have had covid-19, with one still in danger. 26 parents have had covid-19, two fathers have died, two more are in intensive care, four have had relapses and the other 18 have recovered. 13 teachers have had covid-19, of whom two have had relapses and the remaining 11 have recovered.
The Warmi Huasi project accompanies children at risk in both San Benito, in the district of Carabayllo, and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho. The Province of Paucar de Sara Sara is getting its first cases of covid-19, about 10 in all.
In Ayacucho, our Warmi Huasi team is in touch constantly with the parents, teachers and municipal officials about the welfare of the children. We have just spent two weeks with a virtual training program for all teachers of the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara on bio-security for themselves and in turn for them to communicate the same message to all their students, mostly by whatsapp. We have given out all the books from the reading clubs so that the children have the books to read at home. We also have radio with the children, telling stories and getting them to send in their stories.
In San Benito, the mothers of the four homework clubs have started communal kitchens and a key local community leader started another communal kitchen. The number of families helped in the five communal kitchens has increased to 190, with an average of five per family, so you have 950 people receiving a meal each day. In the communal kitchen run out of the chapel in San Benito, they have a number of social cases: 10 elderly people and a single mother with her five children. There are a number of cases of covid-19 in San Benito – four of the parents of the children in the homework and reading clubs have recovered.
We are in the middle of winter and with the help of friends, we have managed to distribute second-hand clothes to families in need in San Benito and a bed to one family who were sleeping on the floor. Often, I am told, that the children there are the ones reminding their mothers to put on their masks before going out, so our training through WhatsApp is working!
I am in touch with groups of Venezuelan families, and one of these – a family of six – is in desperate straits. They lost their accommodation and have been sleeping on the floor, a third storey flat roof, with just a plastic covering and some old blankets to keep them dry and warm. With friends, we are trying to find them somewhere to stay. I have been able to offer them three months’ rent, hopefully to tide them over this difficult moment.
The people try to be resilient; they keep going and many share what they have with others when the need arises. Many Peruvians started their lives in poverty and gradually improved their lot, but now many of the 70% whose work is in the informal sector, are destined to return to poverty.
Fr. Omar Sánchez Portillo distributes food in Lima’s Lurin district. Credit: Beatitudes Community
Lima, Peru,– Priests and volunteers have distributed more than 15,000 food baskets to Peruvians unable to work during the nation’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown. They say they aim to distribute 15,000 more.
Fr. Omar Sánchez Portillo, secretary general of Caritas Lurín and leader of region’s Beatitudes Community, announced March 26 the distribution of 15,000 food baskets to families living on metro Lima’s south side. Lurín is a southern district of Lima, Peru.
“Today we’ve already distributed 15,000 food baskets in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of South Lima. And we’re going for another 15,000!” the priest said March 26.
Sanchez manages a home for orphans in Lurin, in addition to a homeless shelter. Earlier this month, he began an online fundraiser for cleaning supplies and other provisions needed for the facility. He said because of the success of the fundraiser, he was able to purchase food for distribution in the region.
He began another fundraiser when several families approached Caritas, “asking us for help so they could have something to eat because these are people who work as street vendors and motorcycle taxi drivers and unfortunately they don’t have anything to eat because they’re out of work.”
For roughly four dollars per basket, his organization is able to assemble enough staples to replenish the food stores of hungry families.
Sanchez described one family assisted by his group, in which nine family members had been quarantined while the family’s father had been hospitalized. The family had run out of food by the time Caritas brought them a food basket.
Thanks to the group’s donors, Sanchez said, “we gave them a little statue of Our Lady of Aparecida donated by some good friends from Brazil…. We’ll keep on going!”
The delivery of food baskets is being undertaken in coordination with public health authorities, in order to avoid crowding at the headquarters of the Beatitudes Community.
Volunteers reportedly stay quarantined on the premises so as to avoid possibly infecting their families or other citizens.
The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency starting March 15, limiting travel in the country, closing public institutions and private businesses and issuing a 15 day stay-at-home order for all residents. However, on March 26 it announced the order would be extended to April 15.
While isolation and social distancing measures are expected to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, day laborers have been especially hard hit financially.
There are 950 coronavirus cases in Peru and 24 deaths.
LIMA, Aug 4 2017 (IPS) – Domestic violence is alarmingly prevalent in Peru. Not only is it statistically more common than in other, more progressive cultures, but Peruvian women tend to accept it as simply a ‘part of marriage.’
It was therefore both surprising and understandable that the domestic violence classes at a women’s center in the Cajamarca region, observed throughout the summer of 2016, were always crowded and bustling, teeming with adult women and teenage girls.
“Whenever he sees her with someone, that’s when he starts to get angry. And that’s when he hits her.” –Cecilia
“A lot of women don’t speak out against domestic violence because they aren’t as educated, they don’t know about it as much,” one woman called out during class one afternoon. Her fellow classmates all nodded. “Their husbands will insult them and hit them, and the women believe that it’s their fault, that they deserve that kind of treatment.”
One of the class attendees, Cecilia, was reluctant to speak after initially offering to do so, instead staring down at her skirt while her friend sitting next to her, Yolanda, asked, “Are you ready to talk about it?” To which Cecilia quietly replied, “No.”
(Surnames have been omitted to ensure confidentiality.)
When asked if she or anyone she knew has had experience with domestic violence, Yolanda’s eyes immediately darted to Cecilia.
“Many of my friends have experience with it,” she said in Spanish.
When asked if she thinks that some women don’t object to being subjected to domestic violence because they think it’s simply a part of marriage, or a part of the larger culture, Yolanda whispered to Cecilia, “Come on, tell them, tell them.” Cecilia, however, did not answer.
In many Peruvian families, men’s education takes priority over that of women. According to a report by the United Nations, only 56.3% of women in Peru have received at least some secondary education, as compared to 66.1% of men. According to UNESCO, only 6.3% of adult males in Peru are illiterate – as compared to 17.5% of females.
As with almost any aspect of society, education makes a huge difference, but especially so when it comes to domestic violence. According to a study carried out by Princeton University, the less education you have, the higher your chances of being domestically abused are: 42.04% of women with no education at all, and 42.80% of those with primary school education had been abused – compared to 28.93% of those with tertiary, college or more.
“Mothers teach their boys to not do women’s work, that they don’t cook and clean and that’s the woman’s job,” another woman chimed in during class one afternoon, “If the women doesn’t cook and do women’s chores, then they’ll be abused. They won’t be able to get out of it because they don’t have any education, they don’t have any resources.”
All of the women in the class fell into one of two camps. Some wore jeans and tank tops. Others wore traditional long skirts, button down shirts and cardigans. Some were timid – some were not. The ones who spoke openly, condemning Machismo Culture and lecturing the others on the importance of marrying your best friend, were wearing leggings. The ones with waist-length braids and farming boots stayed quiet.
Contributing to that Machismo Culture is the reality that Peru is a sometimes vision-bending fusion of the Old existing alongside the New. While many in Peru drive cars, have cell phones and wear modern clothing, the simultaneous perseverance of a rural lifestyle that feels like going back in time offers fertile soil for that outdated, patriarchal society to take root in.
Consequently, domestic violence is more prevalent among rural women, as is their willingness to put up with it.
“It’s even worse in the rural areas. There, women are just expected to stay in their homes and that’s it,” Yolanda said. “The women from out in the country are quiet. They don’t talk, they don’t say anything. They were raised in that home. Their father hits their mother, and when they get married they get hit. They see it as normal.”
According to the Pan American Health Organization, physical violence within domestic abuse – as opposed to emotional, sexual or verbal violence – is “used much more frequently on women with fewer economic resources” in Peru.
According to the World Health Organization, the lifetime prevalence of physical violence by an intimate partner is 50% in urban areas of the country, as opposed to 62% in rural areas. And there, more than other countries, domestic violence often becomes fatal.
According to the Peruvian publication La Republica, there have been 356 feminicidios, or ‘women-icides’ in the country within the last 4 years, with an additional 174 attempted feminicidios. What’s more, judges have been markedly lenient in their punishments for perpetrators, with almost half receiving less than 15 years in prison, and two receiving less than seven – that is, if they end up being convicted, which only 84 were.
After staring over periodically at Yolanda while she spoke, and visibly reacting to one of Yolanda’s answers, Cecilia became willing to speak. When asked if she knew any stories of domestic violence, she stared down into her lap for a long silence, then nodded.
“Yes. I could tell you a story,” she said.
She proceeded to describe in detail the situation of a ‘relative’ who happened to be the same age as herself – twenty-nine.
“She got engaged to this man … He is always telling her that he loves her, and that he wants her, all the time right?” Cecilia said. “And always saying how much he loves her, and how he’s willing to give her everything, right? But in reality, I can see that it is not good.
“When he tells her that he needs her, she’ll go and be with him. But she is alone. He says that he loves her so much, and that’s why he doesn’t want her to work. He says she should only dedicate herself to her child. She has a daughter, and because of that she can’t work.
“Every instant the phone rings to call her, he asks, ‘Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with?’ And he’ll find her.”
She finished, “He forces her to stay with him. She tries to leave, but he’s there always, always behind her, listening and waiting for her. Whenever he sees her with someone, that’s when he starts to get angry. And that’s when he hits her. She has tried to get out, but he’s forcing her. Because right now she lives more in fear, out of fear that he’s going to kill her if she were to have another partner.”
Cecilia’s hesitancy to speak – whether or not she actually was talking about a “relative” – says leagues about her situation, and that of all the women facing the Machismo Culture in Peru. It’s difficult to grapple with an issue that is in many ways tied into the larger economic, political and historical storylines that have resulted in the perseverance of a rural, anachronistic culture.
The education they are receiving at classes like the one taught at the women’s center is a necessary start – but only if paired with empowerment, so that women like Cecilia can know that they don’t have to be afraid to tell their stories.
An environmental activist was killed last Monday in Yagen, a village on the Marañon River in northern Peru, in the province of Celendín, Cajamarca.
Hitler Rojas, 34, a leading activist in the protest against a hydroelectric project, was shot five times by unknown assailants when he was walking towards his home.
President of the rural self-defense groups (rondas campesinas) in the area and recently elected mayor of Yagen, Rojas was one of the leaders in the area’s defense front against the building of the Chadin II hydroelectric plant, a huge project to be executed by Odebrecht of Brazil that will require the displacement of 1,000 residents from the area and the flooding of 32 square kilometers of villages and farmland along the river. The area to be flooded is 10 times the size of New York’s Central Park, or three times the size of Lima’s San Isidro district. Continue reading Environmental Activist Killed on the Marañon River→
TACNA, PERU , Dec 9 2015 (IPS) – Five women from Candarave Province, located in Tacna (Peru), travelled to India to be trained and to learn how to install solar panels. The training has enabled 272 families to have electricity and improve their quality of life.
Solar panels mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases and allow to address climate change.
In 2011, Reina Isabel Humiri Mamani, 41, who has two children and two grandchildren, realized that, sometimes, to make a right decision, you have to break stereotypes, overcome fears and invest in knowledge. Although her mother, brothers, and some people in her community (Tacalaya) were against the idea, she accepted to take part in the Barefoot College programme, traveled to India for six months, and learned that electricity can be obtained by sunlight with the help of solar panels. Continue reading Peruvian Women Install Solar Panels and Light Up their Communities→
LIMA, Peru – An international law enforcement operation culminated Saturday with the arrests of six individuals involved in sex trafficking and the rescue of 36 sex trafficking victims, including 11 minors.
By many accounts, Peru is doing well. Investments have poured into the mining and energy sectors thanks to government efforts to create a welcome environment for foreign capital. And while economic growth has tapered off in the last year, the average annual rate from 2010 to 2014 was an impressive 5.8 percent. The country’s poverty rate fell by half between 2000 and 2012, while themiddle class grew faster than that of any other country in Latin America. By drawing revenue from the mining and energy sectors, the government has increased spending on education to an unprecedented 3.5 percent of its GDP and has made some progress in reducing chronic child malnutrition.
In anticipation of the Summit of the European Union and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (EU-CELAC) this month, the EU-CELAC ambassador congratulated Peru for becoming a “stable and developing country” with “responsible macroeconomic policies.” She noted that over 50 percent of foreign investments in Peru now come from Europe while a substantial portion of Peru’s exports are sold to European countries. Peru’s progress in reducing poverty and childhood malnutrition was also touted as President Ollanta Humala signed the Schengen visa waiver agreement to ease travel restrictions to and from Europe for Peruvian citizens. The EU is one of Peru’s most important partners, as he expounded, and the two share “a common history in terms of culture.” The visa agreement is just one step in the plan to fortify that partnership.
Not Everyone Is Impressed
Back home, however, not everyone is so impressed by Peru’s developmental path. Throughout much of southern Peru and Cajamarca region in the north, farmers and community organizations have declared their opposition to a $1.4 billion USD copper mining project known as Tía María. The project belongs to Southern Copper Corporation, which is owned by Grupo México, a Mexican American mining company.
Tía María, which would consist of two open pit mines, is to be located in the Tambo Valley in the province of Islay. Tambo Valley communities and those in surrounding regions fear the health and environmental dangers that come with the use of heavy metals in open pit mining. Agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy and nearly all agricultural produce in the region and 88 percent of the fishing catch go toward feeding the population in the southern area of the country. Community members are quite familiar with Southern Copper’s dismal record in neighboring regions where its mining projects have dried up water supplies and contaminated surrounding lands. The result for indigenous and other rural people has been serious illness and the loss of employment in farming and fishing. With this in mind, the Tambo Valley communities rejected the project by a resounding93.4 percent during a popular consultation in 2009.
In an attempt to reassure the communities, Minister of Energy and Mines Pedro Sanchez promised to bring “environmental procedures to a higher standard of excellence.” In 2010, the government signed an agreement with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for a review of 100 separate environmental studies. As was hoped, the deal brought a halt to the social protests going on at the time.
Nonetheless, Tía María was unexpectedly cancelled in March 2011. As the Tambo Valley communities learned soon after, the UNOPS report on Tía María included 138 “observations” or areas of concern regarding the project. Among the most serious observations was the finding that the company’s own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) contained no hydrogeological study. Further, the water to be used at the mine would not come from the sea as the company had claimed “but rather from an estuary—a very sensitive area due to the diversity of species present and its shallowness.” Nor did the EIA take into account the company’s plan to extract gold in addition to copper, a process that entails the use of mercury. During the mining process, mercury can enter into the water supply and the atmosphere, causing damage to the ecosystem and serious dangers to human health.
In 2014, Southern Copper sought to revive the project by producing another EIA, which indicated that the company would create an on-site water desalination plant. At that point, however, any trust that the Tambo Valley communities may have had in Southern Copper had eroded. Few residents were convinced that the open pit mines, one of which would be a mile wide and two thirds of a mile deep, would not cut into the water table and affect the water supply. In March, an indefinite strike was declared in Islay bringing thousands of people into the streets in protest, many of whom blocked bridges and highways. By mid-May, a small but virulent group calling themselves espartambos had formed and were using sling shots to pelt stones at the police. Many are suspected of being former members of the military.
In May, Humala responded by declaring a state of emergency in nine districts of Islay, deploying hundreds of military troops into the region, and freezing the bank accounts of the various municipalities involved. Constitutional rights including the right to hold meetings and travel freely have been suspended as military troops have moved into homes, patrolled streets, imposed curfews, and even detained schoolchildren.
A quick assessment of the casualties that have occurred since the strike began indicates that most of the protestors are rural indigenous people. Many say that they feel overwhelmed by the power of the mining industry and betrayed by their president, who had vowed to support them during his presidential campaign several years ago. Instead, the land has been gradually sold out from under them—69.9 percent of the province of Islay, including 96.2 percent of the city of Cocachacra in the Tambo Valley, is now under concession to mining corporations.
In addition, the Ministry of Environment, created in 2008 to set standards for acceptable levels of pollutants, has since been stripped of this power. With little input from this ministry, EIAs are often carried out by the mining companies themselves and then placed on a fast track for government approval. In the meantime, the concerns of the affected communities are ignored, while their elected leaders can be jailed for speaking out. Furthermore, like many other private companies, Southern Copper is able to hire the local police for its private security purposes, thereby undermining the very notion of public safety.
Cracking Down on Dissent
Tía María’s supporters, on the other hand, seem to have plenty of tools for advancing their interests. In the last few years, the Peruvian Congress has passed laws that make members of the police and Armed Forces less accountable for using their weapons during social protests. Legislative Decree 1095 legalized intervention in conflicts by the military without a declaration of a state of emergency. In addition, the law now treats mass protest action such as roadblocks as a form of extortion punishable by up to twenty-five years in jail. The law also prohibits local officials, who are a key source of leadership in rural areas, from engaging in protest. Rural and indigenous protestors suffer inordinately from these measures due to the greater tolerance for violence against indigenous people and the lack of adequate media coverage in remote areas.
Another powerful weapon that has been wielded against the protestors lies in the use of language. Along these lines, company officials, political leaders and the mainstream press have all been quite adept at demonizing those opposed to Tía María. As the strike began, Southern Copper spokespersonJulio Morriberón, proclaimed, “We are obliged to report this as being a totally anti-mining terrorism minority group, which is using violence to blackmail the majority who are in favor of this project.” Note his use of the words “terrorism” and “blackmail” with their potential to conjure up hatred and legitimize acts of violence by the government. The expressions “anti-mining” and “minority” frame the protesters as mere ideologues with no acknowledgement of their very normal concerns about the health and well being of their communities.
This kind of language has been picked up by public officials, members of the press, and commentators in the business community. Congressman Juan Carlos Eguren called the decision to cancel the contract a “triumph of radical anti-mining interests that had taken advantage of the warmth and mediocrity” of Humala’s government. In declaring the state of emergency in Islay, Humala associated the Tambo Valley protestors with Sendero Luminoso, the terrorist organization that had plagued the country during the 1980s and 1990s. “There is a campaign of misinformation and stigmatization of projects for ideological and often pre-election purposes,” he added. Similarly, Police Chief Eduardo Perez Rocha stated that Sendero Luminoso appeared to be “infiltrating the people.” Carlos Galvez, head of Peru’s National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy, has contended that Tía María’s opponents are simply politicians courting votes in the countryside machinations and “outsiders” who whip up “anti-mining” sentiment. “Here everyone is anti,” he said. “If you’re anti-mining then you’re in fashion.” Foreigners, NGOs, leftists, radicals, and Venezuelan “chavistas” have all been cited as the real cause of the demise of poor Tía María.
What We Would Never Tolerate
The kinds of health and environmental risks that the Tía María mine now poses would not be tolerated in this or any other “developed” country. Nor would we accept the jailing of mayors, governors and legislators for speaking out on behalf of their constituents. And we would hardly take to having police officers freely enter our homes to carry out warrantless searches and arrests and impose restrictions on our free speech, gatherings, and travel, occasionally beating us up in the process. Yet all of this is currently taking place in Islay and other communities. While much of Peru has benefited from mining revenue, those communities at the mining sites are paying the price in health risks, increased repression, and the loss of their land, homes, and way of life.
As it now stands, Humala is caught between a copper mine and a hard place. Commodity prices and economic growth rates are falling steadily along with his approval ratings. His excursion to the EU is part of a larger plan to bolster investments and rescue his legacy before the end of his term in 2016. By supporting multi-billion dollar projects that fail to gain the trust of surrounding communities, however, he will likely leave a fractured society and embittered rural communities under military rule in his wake. We can only hope that Peru’s journey toward greater integration with Europe and other parts of the world will bring about a greater demand for protecting the rights of its rural and indigenous populations.
Lynn Holland, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, told Catholic News Service: “(The encyclical) will have many critics, because they want to continue setting rules of the game in which money takes first place. We have to be prepared for those kinds of attacks.”
The archbishop said that there would controversy once people had read the Pope’s new encyclical because resisting the “throwaway culture” by being satisfied with less means “putting money at the service of people, instead of people serving money.”
Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology and climate is expected to send a strong moral message – one message that could make some readers uncomfortable, some observers say.
“The encyclical will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health,” Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno said.
“Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that the environment is not only an economic or political issue, but is an anthropological and ethical matter,” he said. “How can you have wealth if it comes at the expense of the suffering and death of other people and the deterioration of the environment?”
The encyclical, to be published June 18, is titled “Laudato Sii” (“Praised Be”), the first words of St Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures.”
Although Archbishop Barreto was not involved in the drafting of the encyclical, he worked closely with then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in 2007 on a document by the Latin American bishops’ council that included an unprecedented section on the environment.
The encyclical is not expected to be a theological treatise or a technical document about environmental issues, but a pastoral call to change the way people use the planet’s resources so they are sufficient not only for current needs, but for future generations, observers said.
The document “will emphasise that the option for stewardship of the environment goes hand in hand with the option for the poor,” said Carmelite Father Eduardo Agosta Scarel, a climate scientist who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and the National University of La Plata in Buenos Aires.
“I think the Pope wants us to become aware of this,” said Father Scarel, who was involved in preparatory consultations about the encyclical. “He is aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society.”
The pontiff probably foreshadowed the encyclical during his first public Mass as Pope on March 19, 2013, Father Agosta said. In his homily, he said, “Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
Although the document will be published in the wake of a seminar on climate change in April at the Vatican, it will not be limited to that issue and will probably focus on the relationship between people and their environment, Archbishop Barreto said.
“What the Pope brings to this debate is the moral dimension,” said Anthony Annett, climate change and sustainable development adviser to the Earth Institute at Columbia University and to the nonprofit Religions for Peace. “His unique way of looking at the problem, which is deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching, resonates with people all across the world.”
Annett called the timing of the encyclical “extremely significant.”
A month after it is published, global representatives will meet at a conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In September, the Pope will address the United Nations at a session that is likely to see the approval of a new set of global development objectives, the Sustainable Development Goals, which include environmental criteria.
And in December, negotiators and world leaders will converge on Paris to finish hammering out a treaty aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Some politicians have already questioned the Pope’s credentials for wading into the issue of climate change, but that is only one of several environmental problems the Pope is likely to address, said David Kane, a Maryknoll lay missioner in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, who works with Maryknoll’s Faith-Economics-Ecology Program.
The Pope has spoken out in the past on the “throwaway culture, both of material goods that we buy and use for a few months and then throw out, and also throwaway people,” he said.
Kane hopes the encyclical will help people understand that overusing resources, from forests to fish to water, results in scarcity that can both increase and be exacerbated by climate change. He expects Pope Francis will remind people of the responsibility of caring for God’s creation.
“Whether you think climate change is a problem or not, you cannot deny that running out of fish, oil, water and other resources is a really big problem. The solution is a radical change in our concept of what makes a person happy. We need to move away from the idea that the more things we have, the happier we’ll be,” Kane said.