A year since the Good Sams committed to ecological conversion at their Chapter, Sister Catherine McCahill SGS, reflects on some of the challenges and initiatives to respond to the global environmental crisis.
BY Catherine McCahill SGS
“The whole creation has been groaning,” wrote the Apostle Paul some 2,000 years ago. Paul was undoubtedly writing of the completion of the redemptive act of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Today, this generation hears and feels that “groaning” in a new way, at a profound level. Our understanding of creation has exploded with the extraordinary advances in astronomy, physics and ecology. Our minds are stretched in the great cosmic reality that we know as God’s creation.
Our minds and our hearts do “groan” as we see and hear the devastating impact of human beings on this creation.
Four years have passed since Pope Francis wrote the unprecedented encyclical, Laudato Si’. Boldly and unequivocally, he called the entire human community to action on behalf of the environment. He named the sins that “destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation…causing changes in its climate… stripping the earth of its natural forests… destroying its wetlands… contaminat[ing] earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life.”
To mark its fourth anniversary, Francis met with finance ministers from various nations. He was unequivocal in naming the current situation: “the signs today are not good… the effects of global inaction are startling… we need to act decisively”. He continues to call these ministers to act now for the sake of the planet and its inhabitants. As in the earlier encyclical, he expresses his deep concern for the world’s poorest nations who suffer the most from climate change.
Earlier in May, in Fiji, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, spoke in solidarity with the Pacific Nations, already significantly impacted by climate change. In some countries, the sea-level rise is four times greater than the global average. He applauded the people’s “long tradition of adaptation and [recourse] to traditional ecological knowledge”. On behalf of the UN he pledged support and action.
Indeed creation is “groaning.”
Some 20 months ago, we, the Good Samaritans in Chapter, committed ourselves to ecological conversion. It was a bold commitment, a challenge drawing us to a new asceticism; to change our daily practices; to read and reflect on the science, the theology and the spirituality; and to immerse ourselves deeply in God’s creation.
As another year passes by, we pause to reflect on what we have been doing, to celebrate the small steps of progress and to re-energise for the challenges ahead.
The most exciting, single project is the ecological restoration work on our property at Camden. Over 160 hectares of Cumberland Plain Woodland has been set aside and the original vegetation is being restored. As the vegetation is enhanced and feral animals eradicated, the native animals return. These are long-term projects. The initial Biobank Agreements with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage are for 20 years.
Cumberland Plain Woodland is threatened by urban and rural development so this work along the Nepean River contributes significantly in ensuring its survival. Various endangered flora have been identified, for example Eucaplyptus Benthami (Camden White Gum) and Pimelea Spicata (Smooth Rice Flower). Several Camden White Gum have been germinated from seed collected on site and planted back along the river.
Thousands of trees have been planted on land previously cleared for farming. With careful nurturing they also are taking root. Around them, we are delighted with plenty of evidence of wombats and other native fauna.
As other aspects of our commitment to ecological conversion are less spectacular but, nonetheless effective. Our finance council is committed to sustainable investments, so we actively engage with investment managers to ensure that we “invest with companies that adhere to sound environmental, social and governance practices”. We seek out those companies that make a positive impact.
We are seeking ways to reduce our carbon footprint in various ways: replacing many face-to-face meetings with “zoom” meetings, installing solar panels on some of our community houses, and reducing our printed material. Many of us no longer use plastic bags or plastic wrapping material.
In our endeavours to respond to the crisis on our planet, we are mindful of many other similarly motivated groups. We participate in and support various other partnerships: Faith Ecology Network, Australia Religious Response to Climate Change, Pacific Calling Partnership and Pacific Climate Watch.
Creation is “groaning.”
Conversion of life is one of the three vows that we – vowed members of the Good Sams – make at religious profession. As Benedictine women we know deeply that conversion is a life-long process. When the Good Sams committed ourselves to ecological conversion, we understood that it would be a deep life commitment. We would need discipline, courage and each other to make a difference to the earth’s cry for action.
As Pope Francis has said it is a call, not just to Christians, but to the human community:
“The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion. This conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness… it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works…”
As a global family, we can be encouraged by so many women and men of our time who act for and against climate change. With courage and in hope, we endeavour to hear the cry of the earth, and to act boldly.