Parish and Local Community Groups: Legislative Advocacy
We urge policy makers and public officials to focus more directly on the ethical dimensions of environmental policy and on its relation to development, to seek the common good, and to resist short-term pressures in order to meet our long-term responsibility to future generations … We need to use our voices and votes to shape a nation more committed to the universal common good and an ethic of environmental solidarity. Renewing the Earth, United States Catholic Bishops (1992)
The policies of government and industry can do a great deal to protect or harm the environment, to pursue or ignore the common good, and to promote or diminish justice. Our faith calls us to bring our values to the debate about environmental policy and to make our voices heard in defense of all creation, particularly the poor and vulnerable. Across the country, parishes and dioceses are advocating for environmental justice through their legislative networks and are joining other local groups to educate and activate their parishioners to work for socially and economically sound environmental policies.
Equity Project (SWEEP)
The Office of Peace and Justice of the Diocese of Phoenix organized a Catholic environmental advocacy campaign to participate in forming state environmental policies. The project aim was to involve 500 people in education sessions in four parishes. The sessions included reflection on the spirituality of creation and its relationship to the environmental decisions being made by the state legislature. Participants also visited Nogales, Ariz., a predominantly Latino border community, where they learned about the connection between industrial pollution and high rates of cancer and lupus. Finally, participants testified before the legislature and advocated through letters and phone calls for environmentally sound and just policies.
Reflecting their parish’s environmental mission statement, the environmental justice committee of St. Raphael’s Parish in Rockville, Md., acted to promote education, action, and spiritual growth. Many parishioners were active in the Eco-Civic Network, which supported the policy of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” and resisted a mass-burn incinerator through court hearings, petitions, and demonstrations. Since political action is important also, the environmental justice committee entered the parish as a member in Bread for the World. In addition, it tracked state and national legislation on hunger issues and foreign aid and shared this information with the parish community through letter writing and telephone campaigns.
Diocesan Land Use Task
The Diocese of Cleveland formed a Diocesan Land Use Task Force to look at the implications of regional sprawl for the environment, racial justice, and economic development. The task force explored the moral dimensions of urban sprawl, connecting it to questions of justice and stewardship. They then developed a rationale for evaluating public policy and promoting a more just, economically sound, and environmentally safe region.
Coalition to Restore
The Diocese of Houma, Thibodaux, Louisiana, and other local religious organizations have become deeply involved in environmental issues in response to the destruction of wetlands. Local fishermen have been fenced out of traditional fishing waters by new levees, and increased development has destroyed the natural processes which once protected homes against floods caused by storms and hurricanes. Church leaders were instrumental in forming the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana to engage people in advocacy and educational efforts. More than 4,000 people have been involved in the project.
Sts. Peter and Paul
Environmental issues, especially those related to clean air and water, are among the three or four priority legislative issues chosen each year by members of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Williamsville, N.Y. Parishioners research relevant state and federal legislation and then ask all committees that meet in parish buildings to respond. Information is distributed to committee leaders, who present the issues to their groups, facilitate discussion, and distribute postcards that are collected and mailed to targeted legislators.
Holy Spirit Catholic
Holy Spirit is a small but active parish in Pennington Gap, Va., located in the state’s poorest county. Several years ago the county was targeted for a new waste facility. Believing that their community had sustained enough environmental damage from strip mining, members of Holy Spirit rallied to oppose the waste facility. They attended hearings, signed petitions, wrote letters, and protested at the courthouse. They learned a great deal about environmental issues and went on to develop an “earth-friendly” design for their new building.
Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Lansing formed Project Isidore as a feasibility study designed to establish a Rural Life/Environmental Director Position with the Michigan State Catholic Conference to address land stewardship issues in Michigan.