By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
The Diocese of Charleston is fortunate to have two religious sisters laboring in our diocese with Native Americans, Sister Carol Dulka and Sister Mary LeQuier. The two sisters have been laboring for almost a quarter century with the Edisto Indians living in rural Dorchester County. In 1997 they received South Carolina’s highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto.
These dedicated women represent the church’s concern to bring healing and reconciliation to relationships that had, in times past, been hostile between Anglo and Native American cultural groups.
We are grateful for members of our church who have helped support the efforts of Sister Carol and Sister Mary through the years. The healing presence of Christ has been evident in their presence with the Edisto Indians. Through their presence the church is able to express our sorrow for any injustice members of the church have in the past inflicted on Native Americans.
How much we can learn from our Native American brothers and sisters about respect for all of God’s creation!
Native Americans remind us how every aspect of creation is connected with the Creator. This connectedness calls for respect for all of creation and God’s plan for creation.
While our Judeo-Christian heritage does not see the connectedness in the extreme panentheistic sense of many Native Americans, as we see God as separate from his creation, nevertheless we join them in looking at God’s creation with reverence.
That perspective calls for us to translate our respect and reverence into concrete action in protecting the environment surrounding us.
Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, in a statement for Earth Day, April 22, 2000, noted that the promotion of a sound and healthy ecology is a sacred task, “one which affects every aspect of life.”
“The earth is our home,” he said, “and there is an integral bond that connects us to all life on this planet. There is a close bond between soul and soil, between life and air and water, between human and all other forms of life on planet earth.”
In a 1991 document, “Renewing the Earth,” the United States bishops stated that there are “unbreakable links between natural ecology and human ecology” and called for theologians and ethicists to “explore, deepen, and advance the insights of our Catholic tradition and its relation to the environment.”
In February of this year, the Catholic bishops of Kansas called for a “large and sustained conversation on the future of agriculture,” a conversation that should include “farmers, ranchers, family members and multinational corporations, implement dealers, retailers, and city, county and state officials, as well as ‘the eaters of the world.'”
“The time is now,” they said, “to correct, and even to change course so that we might have an agriculture that is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable.”
Also in February of this year, a group of Minnesota churches urged their faith communities to cut energy consumption, stop wasting resources, and do something to improve the environment.
They noted that human activity “dramatically influences the current rate of change in the global climate. … Having caused this change, we believe, we must, with God’s blessings, effectively address and work to resolve this crisis” (2001 Minnesota Interfaith Campaign for Climate Change).
In his 1990 World Day of Peace message, Pope John Paul II said that “Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty toward nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith.”
Urban sprawl, foresting techniques, the use of our water supply, the use of fuel resources, the planting of crops, the controlling of soil erosion, the consumption of material goods, the recycling of our resources, and many other practices we engage in affect the creation God gave us, of which we are the stewards. How we respond to this relationship and responsibility, as our Holy Father notes, is an essential part of our faith.
While at a Knights of Columbus convention recently in a hotel bathroom I saw a little note near the sink. The note read:
“Save Our Planet
Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once.
You make this choice: A towel on the rack means ‘I will use again. A towel on the floor means, please exchange.’
Please decide for yourself.
Thank you for helping us conserve the earth’s vital resources.”
In this month of August we might see ourselves growing in reconciliation with our Native American brothers and sisters by conserving our natural resources and preserving the earth and its atmosphere, which they respect so dearly and we, in faith, are called to respect and revere as well.