By Claris Zwareva, MM
Since our foundation, Maryknoll Sisters have focused on ministries that promote peace, justice and the integrity of creation. This task is even more crucial today because deforestation, the overexploitation of earth’s resources, trafficking in wildlife, and other unhealthy practices continually increase human suffering, especially among poor people.
In June, the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, addressed these issues to protect humanity’s source of sustenance. We, as Maryknoll Sisters, share these concerns as we continue to witness the effects of forest degradation, desertification, and environmental pollution, and poor people continue to suffer because of past practices that have damaged their lands, making them infertile.
Since action begins at home, we Maryknoll Sisters are also called to continue concretizing our agenda for the care of the earth. Every tree, every bush on our grounds is an oxygen factory that preserves our health and for which we must care. As we grow in the awareness of our interconnectedness with nature, we begin to realize that it is our duty to care for the earth as God’s precious gift to us and not an object to be exploited. We must join hands in order to change the attitude of dominance that is destroying our planet and over-exploiting its finite resources. The example of groups from around the world who have participated in shaping the UN’s post-2015 development goals inspire us as Maryknoll Sisters. With the help of those who share our vision for mission, we can “make God’s love [truly] visible.”
At the environmental assembly in Nairobi, the UN Secretary General said, “Protecting humanity’s life support system is integral to sustainable development. And it is a duty for all. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil that grows our food are part of a delicate global ecosystem that is increasingly under pressure from human activities.” Ecosystem degradation affects not just human life but all of Earth’s bio-systems. Therefore, the Earth’s community, including Maryknoll Sisters and all those who share our mission values, is called to find effective solutions to today’s problems. Restoring a clean environment, providing sufficient clean water for consumption, and growing sufficient food requires the effective collaboration of all sectors that, together, are able to advocate for more effective environmental policies.
In Africa and other developing areas, many people continue to depend on solid fuels, biomass and open fires for heating and cooking. Household air pollution from such fuels affects the health of children and of the elderly. Industrial, automobile and other air and water pollutants affect human health and their capacity to contribute to the development agenda. Air pollution now ranks as the world’s biggest cause of respiratory illnesses most prevalent in slums where people live in deplorable conditions. Our mission as Maryknoll Sisters is not only the elimination of poverty but to address its root causes and a development agenda that has created a new kind of waste.
Technological progress has created a new kind of trash, electronic waste, which is a health hazard for those who go through the garbage looking for objects that they can re-sell for a living. Electronic waste is a danger to children who play with it and are exposed to such heavy metals as mercury, lead and arsenic among other hazardous substances. E-waste also infiltrates the soil, drinking water as well as the air we breathe.
September 23 is the beginning of the United Nations Climate Summit which will bring together heads of state, civil society leaders, and other stakeholders. This will be a time to link with other groups as well as a time to lobby government officials for effective policies on climate change, and UNEA can provide the overarching policy guidance needed within the UN system.
Our commitment to the promotion of justice, peace and the integrity of creation calls us to urgent action to engage in earth-preserving practices. True collaboration is imperative if we are to succeed in eradicating poverty and in promoting a life of dignity for all God’s people. Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10), which for us means promoting the dignity and integrity of life for all peoples.