May 2014

Signs of hope in our Church and world?

When asked to name signs of hope in our Church and world, Good Samaritan Sister, Mary McDonald, saw very few in the Church, besides the “Francis factor”. So she began anew to seek them out.

BY Mary McDonald SGS

What are the signs of hope in the Church and the world?

My initial reaction to that question was somewhat confronting. Besides the “Francis factor”, I saw very few signs of hope in the Church. This response was probably strongly influenced by the heart-rending stories of pain, suffering and broken trust that have been told by survivors at the hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

So I began anew to seek out the signs of hope.

Two areas that both the Church and the world are willing to name and address, are the evil of human trafficking and the ecological crisis. The Good Samaritan Sisters share concerns and hope for both areas.

Recently the Vatican sponsored a conference in Rome, authorised by Pope Francis, which was a collaboration between the British government and police and the Catholic Church, to address the evil of human trafficking which extends across all country boundaries. There, the heroic work of religious women was named and acclaimed. The conference called on all politicians worldwide to give this issue greater recognition.

Soon afterwards, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, announced that the US State Department is planning to work with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to map and co-ordinate the Church’s efforts on a global basis, to help combat the crime of human trafficking.

Here in Australia since 2004, ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) has been committed to working together towards the elimination of human trafficking in Australia, Asia, the Pacific and internationally. Good Samaritan Sister, Pauline Coll AM, was the inaugural chair of ACRATH, and advocated strongly for the protection of women and children, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

The second sign of shared hope I see in the Church and the world is the effort to address the current ecological crisis. With the frequency of natural disasters, few now deny that we are in the midst of climate change that will impact on all aspects of the life of our planet earth.

On January 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI issued his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, entitled If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Care for Creation. In it, Benedict reminded us that 20 years ago, Pope John Paul II devoted his message for the World Day of Peace to the theme Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation.

“He emphasised our relationship, as God’s creatures, with the universe all around us. ‘In our day,’ he wrote, ‘there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened… also by a lack of due respect for nature’. He added that ‘ecological awareness, rather than being downplayed, needs to be helped to develop and mature, and find fitting expression in concrete programs and initiatives’.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

Currently, Pope Francis is planning to write his next encyclical on the environment. In preparation, he invited Bishop Erwin Krautler, an advocate for the past 30 years for Brazil’s indigenous peoples and the Amazon rainforests, to share his insights and experience. His work has foreshadowed an emerging approach to law called Earth Jurisprudence.

This aspect of law stresses human connectedness and interdependence with the earth. It advocates for legal recognition of the rights of nature. A tribunal has been established with legal status whose members include leaders from indigenous and non-indigenous civil society movements from around the world.

Recently this tribunal met in Ecuador, the first nation in the world to adopt “rights of nature” in its Constitution. Australia presented the Great Barrier Reef and submitted details about the threats facing the Reef from increased coal ports, shipping and coal mining and climate change. The case was accepted as one of the first that will be heard by the new tribunal. This global alliance is a network of more than 60 organisations and individuals advocating for legal recognition of the rights of nature.

Earth Jurisprudence also includes eco-spirituality in its mandate. Here, the signs of hope again intersect. There are a growing number of theologians, including Australian Catholic priest, Denis Edwards, who are providing a sound eco-theological base for life and action.

Catholic Earthcare Australia was established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in 2002. Its mission is to help promote understanding among people that creation is sacred and endangered, and must be protected and sustained for present and future generations. Good Samaritan Sister, Monica Sparks, a long-time advocate in this area, was a foundation member and supporter of Catholic Earthcare for many years.

As a gift to future generations, the Good Samaritan Sisters recently transferred a bio-diverse parcel of land at their Mater Dei property in Camden, NSW, to the NSW bio land bank. The congregation also has a creation resource team which explores and critiques different theologies and spiritualties of creation, as well as organising educational opportunities. The group seeks to strengthen networks with other local or global groups as well as to prioritise various modes of advocacy.

So, on reflection, it seems there are more signs of hope in the Church than I’d first thought! They are happening at global and local levels among groups and individuals. Significantly, however, these initiatives involve collaborations between the Church and the world. Perhaps this is the Spirit offering us something to ponder.

Mary McDonald

Good Samaritan Sister Mary McDonald has had a long involvement in and commitment to education, the environment and social justice issues. She holds degrees in arts, education, environmental education and theology. Mary lives in Brisbane where among other things, she gardens, plays Mahjong the Chinese way and tutors at Lourdes Hill College.

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