“The Church of Greenpeace”

There is a fascinating recent interview with Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace and now one of its most vehement critics. See the full article here.  Below some of the highlights.  Continue reading

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What is The Evangelization of Culture?

In his paper “Nature, Culture and the Theology of Reconciliation” delivered for the Creatio Conference in Rio 2013, Alfredo Garcia, a Peruvian Philosopher, stated that “we can affirm that the central problem of mankind in our times rests in the “rupture with reality”.  All of reality is broken, and mankind struggles to relate to it in a correct and harmonious way. Therefore a society of reconciliation, and the evangelization of culture which is how we get there, require a correct relationship with reality, in the first place. Many times it seems that Catholics understand the evangelization of culture in very narrow and confining terms – as a political option by casting a vote, an economic decision to support Chick-file, etc.

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DEEPER ECOLOGY: A CATHOLIC VISION OF THE PERSON IN NATURE

The following is part of an article extracted from Communio 38:4 (winter 2011) 583 – 620 written by Mary Taylor and presented in the frame of the last WYD in Rio de Janeiro

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Fuente de la Imagen: Sólo para Viajeros.pe     (Revista de viajes, turismo y desarrollo)

PopeBenedict XVI, said during the World Youth Day held in Australia, “Reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.”   Solet us start with an assertion: we are in the midst of an ecological crisis. Or, to mitigate the assertion: at the very least, many people perceive us to be in the midst of an ecological crisis, and even those who deny that there is any crisis at all must still deal with those who do – and that too can take the form of a crisis!

Thelitany of ills is long and readily visible and does not need to be repeated here; a vast field of ecology/environmental theorists and practitioners has risen up in response. One of the central concerns for these movements is sustainability, which seeks the assurance that nature’s resources will be continue to be available to us in the future. Its concomitant sisters are restoration – that which has been, in the Pope’s example, eroded, deforested, and squandered, should be regenerated – and conservation – “setting aside,” whether for genetic information to be used in the future cure of diseases, for scenic beauty, or other uses. While most people of good will agree on some form of these, there are different ways they can be approached.

Themanifestations of brokenness – both environmental degradation and disregard for life – are the result of actions that arise from free human choices; those choices may be economically or politically or even ethically motivated, but they have deeper roots. While there is not one single cause of those environmental crises (there are many proximate causes, some local, some not), ultimately questions about our relationships with others and with nature do not stand alone, but take their place within greater ontological and meta- anthropological dimensions, and must be faced by turning to those dimensions:  what do we take to be real and who do we think that we are.

Arecent text claims that there are over 200 schools of thought in ecology today.  We will consider them here under the rubric of “trajectories,” a word borrowed from Pope Benedict XVI; the word is chosen specifically because they encompass not – or not only – theories, but ways of thinking, of being, of acting, of living. It is always perilous to generalize, but the term is not meant to be totalizing metanarrative, a rigid taxonomy, a way to “control and colonize” ecological thinking, or a way to deny the complexity, variety, and distinctions within each trajectory.  Instead, the term is meant simply to point to, as Wittgenstein would put it, family resemblances.

FirstTrajectory

 Achemical company remediates a polluted site by digging up the contaminated earth andcarting it away. A paper-and-pulp company plants a tree for every tree cut down. A nonprofit gets a scenic area set aside as a wilderness preserve.  Any environmental project which seeks to conserve, restore, recycle, or otherwise manage natural resources when those resources are seen onlyin terms of their utility, and where sustainability is understood as nothing more than “utility extended into the future,” falls under the First Trajectory – the “instrumental rationalism of resource managerialism.”

Sustainabilityindicators – complex quantitative tools combining various indices and metrics– have been developed to highly sophisticated levels. Rightly ordered, they may be useful tools within the other trajectories, but here their defining feature is a reductive mode of thinking based on an antecedent calculative utilitarianism in which all factors are stripped down to the measurable for a single goal: “environmental policies are designed to maximize human satisfaction or minimize human harms.”

The First Trajectory’s antecedents are found in modernity’s dualism between the person and the world; the human is the subject and nature is the object, to be known by a form of science seen as the final arbiter in all human endeavors.

SecondTrajectory 

 TheSecond Trajectory is the home of all projects which focus on nature as a holistic system that needs to be sustained for its own sake and not simply for human utility and efficiency. The idea is not to save nature for humans, but to save it by “letting be.” The same issues of sustainability, restoration, etc. may be considered, but they must be extended to living creatures and to the land. Second Trajectory ecological thought arose positively with the awareness of the delight to be taken in the natural world that was missing from positivism. It invokes, often in expressions of great beauty, the wonder at the heart of our relation with the earth. Philosophically, the Second Trajectory is part of postmodernity’s attack on the presuppositionsof the Enlightenment, including its assessment of the subject/object distinction in epistemology and mind/body, self/nature dualism (eco-phenomenology has been very influential here), and the overemphasis on reduction, mechanization, and quantification, derived from physics and extended to other fields.

TheSecond Trajectory’s holism is a philosophy of identity, in which, Benedict XVI has said, “the person is not an ultimate reality…[since] the person, the contrast between the I and the Thou, belongs to the sphere of distinctions;” instead, the boundaries between persons, and between persons and the natural world, “are absorbed, are revealed as provisional.”True solidarity based on respect is impossible not only with humans but with nonhuman entities if each living thing is nothing but “a dissipative structure, that …does not endure in and of itself butonly as a result of the continual flow in the system.”

  

ThirdTrajectory

 A few years ago, a young consecrated layman, Ricardo Simmonds (a member of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae and the founder of “Creatio,” a Catholic nonprofit that seeks reconciliation between persons and creation as a response to environmental problems) was given the project of creating a small park out of a garbage dump in a South American shantytown. If it had been a First Trajectory project, the initial step might have been an economic feasibility study, followed by hiring a planning/redevelopment consultant, then seeking out landscape designers, waste management engineers, and other technical help. A Second Trajectory project might have begun with an environmental impact assessment and a stakeholder charrette.  Instead, Simmonds put a large statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of the dump.  First the mothers came to pray and plant flowers, carving out natural walkways; the children came to play; the fathers came and began hauling the garbage away; then others from both the shantytown and the city saw something beautiful happening that they wanted to be a part of, and volunteered their services, time, and money. This might seem like an isolated, irrelevant, or marginal event, and clearly a religious statue reflects a very specific milieu, but large-scale environmental projects have been carried out in a similar way: by reversing the standard order of starting with technical fixes and economic costs, which often lead to various social or political conflicts, and instead beginning with the common call to meet our deepest shared needs for meaning, beauty, mystery, and friendship. The other steps are not eliminated but are rightly ordered under what is most important.

We can see the above as an illustration of what Benedict XVI called a “new trajectory” in action:

A new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity rather than marginalization.

The name “Third Trajectory” gives the impression that it is another possible path to be set alongside the other two. But it is not simply another, ultimately indifferent choice, or a response to the others; it remembers and integrates what is good in them, while at the same transcending them.  This Trajectory really is new because its very grammar begins from a qualitatively different launching point, so that the ensuing alternative arc of its flight traces a solidarity that can embrace, heal, and bring to fruition all that is good in the earlier trajectories.  This trajectory, to borrow from David L. Schindler, is able “to integrate the achievements of modernity, while at the same time moving us truly beyond modernity.”

Benedict XVI sees both the extrinsic, functional relationality of the First Trajectory and the interrelatedness of the Second Trajectory, whether due to biology or choice, as inadequate: “Thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation.” This task, he continues, “cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood.” So we begin by turning from projects to principles.

In ecological thinking, the Third Trajectory is only now coming into being, awakened by the growing awareness that the first two trajectories are not sufficient. Operating through dualism, monism, or a dialectic of ambiguity, is too limiting. The suggestion is not to reject instrumental reason, interconnection, or dialectic; nor is it to turn one’s back on sustainability, restoration, or conservation. Sustainability, for example, involves more than insuring that we can continue consuming into the future. Though our natural resources are limited and finite, we have a need for meaning that transcends the material; only the infinite will suffice. Solidarity, which requires the participation of everyone involved, concerns more than merely overlapping interests and diverse perspectives; it involves a reversal.

The Third Trajectory does not necessarily promote any specific ecological practices. It draws on every other level and every other ecological method and strategy, not as something extra or added on, but as that which radiates the light by which the others are seen. Something Benedict XVI said about the Church finds an analogous echo in the Third Trajectory: “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer,” but rather points to the truth of human persons and their dignity and vocation, for “without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and skeptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values — sometimes even the meanings — with which to judge and direct it.”

 Seeing the whole of creation as an analogical, participatory, personalist gift within which we are in communion with all other beings illuminates the experience of wonder and gratitude for the natural world; provides for genuine hope for the future; and opens the door to a solidarity that is relational in the deepest sense, one which transcends the anthropocentric/ biocentric divide and whose end, to borrow from Martin Luther King, “is reconciliation… redemption…[and] the creation of the beloved community.”

HUMANIZING ECOLOGY

 

Strarford and Sophie Caldecott present us a resume of their lecture presented in the frame of WYD held in Rio de Janeiro on July, 2013. This beautiful document have special relevance in the context of the next encyclical about Ecology that our Pope is writing.

 

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Through the pontificates of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, ecology has become an important part of Catholic social teaching. In 2011, Pope Benedict said, “The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly.” In his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis asked us to become “’protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” We have been reminded over and over again that, as Pope Francis also said in a Tweet on 5 June: “Care of creation is not just something God spoke of at the dawn of history: he entrusts it to each of us as part of his plan.”

Many scientist have dedicated their life to trying to save as much as they can, but many of them do it without the support that our faith gives us. They are defending God’s creation without even knowing who God is – just because they know it is the right thing to do. Not only are they defending the beauty of nature, but also they are trying to help preserve human life on earth, which depends on the survival of the “ecosystem”. As Catholics, we have even more reason to get involved in this issue. Our Christian faith tells us that this responsibility is part of what we were created for. The Book of Genesis (2:15) tells us “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Like response to the mentioned before, we need a humanistic ecological vision that takes account of the special nature of human beings, as well as the ecosystem in which we belong. This vision, as Pope Benedict said, should take in “not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations”; that is, our “duties towards the human person” (Caritas in Veritate, 51). For all these things are part of what we mean by the nature of human beings. We are social by nature. We are born into families. We find meaning in our lives through loving and serving others. We have a dignity that can be expressed in the form of rights and duties.

Pope Benedict taught us that Christianity tries to balance the value of the human person with the value of nature as God’s creation. The Book of Genesis – as well as the Psalms and many other parts of the Bible, which praise the glories of nature – teach Christians to be responsible and gentle and wise in the way we behave towards the world around us. The virtue of Prudence instructs us to take special care to preserve the natural resources on which our lives and those of our children depend. The other three “cardinal virtues” that are part of the Christian life are just as relevant. Temperance tells us that we must not become greedy, addicted to consumption, living a lifestyle that depends on having more and more. The virtue of Justice reminds us that many of us in the richer countries of the world support our lifestyle at the expense of the poorer countries. And we need the virtue of Fortitude or Courage to strengthen us for what we have to do – to find ways to change the way we live, to be kinder to the earth, fairer to our fellow human beings, and merciful towards the animals and plants that God has created out of his love and wisdom.

Pope Francis recently condemned our culture’s unrestrained greed, saying: “Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’”

As young people we are consumers of clothing, and most of us would agree we should try to make sure we are not supporting unfair businesses, or buying things whose negative impact on the environment is hidden from view. If we are running a business, it is easy to say that we must not exploit our workers unfairly, or use immoral or illegal business practices to destroy competitors. That’s easy to say, sometimes less easy to do, in a fiercely competitive economy. We need ethical consumer organizations and corporate whistleblowers to help us. One thing we mustn’t do is assume that what we buy, what we wear, what we eat, is somehow unconnected with what I was saying earlier about the planet. If there is one thing ecology has taught us, it is that everything is connected.

In his speech to the German Bundestag in September 2011 called “The Listening Heart”, Pope Benedict said this: “We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself.”

The Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II is all about what we find when we understand our own nature as created by God. The Pope talks about the “spousal” or “nuptial” meaning of the body, about the fact that we were made for love, and that there is a “way of living the body” in its authentic masculinity and femininity. This nuptial meaning has been limited, violated and deformed over time and by modern culture, until we have almost lost the power of seeing it, but it is still there to be discovered with the help of grace, like a spark deep within the human heart. The “language of the body” is part of that “language of nature” that Pope Benedict speaks of. The way we live, the clothes we buy and wear, the work we do, the way we treat each other, and, yes, the way we treat animals and the whole of nature, should reflect our understanding of that language – the fact that we are put here not to destroy and exploit but to love and cooperate.

In our families, and with our children when they come, we must draw on the love that opens our eyes to reality, as Pope Francis says in his encyclical Lumen Fidei (2013): “Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes” (n. 26). In turn, by revealing the love of God the Creator, faith “enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted” (n. 55).

“NATURE AND CULTURE IN CATHOLIC ENVIRONMENTALISM: ROMANO GUARDINI’S LETTERS FROM LAKE COMO

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Christopher Shannon, in the frame of the last WDY presented us some ideas from Romano Guardini, one of the most profound modern Catholic thinkers, who in 1926 wrote a famous  book called Letters from Lake Como. In this book, Guardini develop a range of questions concerning man’s relation to the natural world, a foundational text of a tradition of authentically Catholic “environmentalism.”   

Guardini born in 1885 in Verona, Italy, soon moved with his family to the city of Mainz, in Germany where his father went in search of employment.  His parents were faithful, if not excessively devout Catholics who raised Guardini with a love for the great classics of European humanism, ranging from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Goethe’s Faust.  By the early twentieth century, however, science had eclipsed literary humanism as the great achievement of European civilization.  Indeed, for the enlightened of that age, modern science had rendered traditional Christianity obsolete.  Guardini tried to embrace the spirit of his age through the study of chemistry and economics.  Attending the University of Munich, he noticed that many of his fellow students had abandoned their religious beliefs; this caused him to begin to question his own faith.  Guardini then underwent a period of spiritual crisis that he would later compare to that of St. Augustine.  He emerged from this crisis with a renewed faith, but continued to pursue his secular studies.  Still, after a few months of studying economics at the University of Berlin, he felt the call to the priesthood, eventually receiving holy orders on May 28, 1910.  Over the next ten years, Guardini pursued a Ph.D. that would qualify him to teach in the German university system, served two years of service as a hospital orderly for the German army during World War I, and held various parish assignments.

 Between the main ideas of Guardini, it could be mentioned the issue of the meaning of industrialism as it has spread into a previously unindustrialized region of Italy.  He frames the problem in the following way:  “I saw machines invading the land that had previously been the home of culture.” Significantly, he criticizes industrialism as less a corruption of pure nature than a transformation of culture.  Nature was made for human habitation.  The question is not whether to interact with nature or leave it alone, but how to live with nature in a manner that is both human and natural

 The unnatural relation between man and nature extends to social and economic relations among people.  The factories that destroy nature also introduce an unnatural relation of production and consumption into human society.  

 Mass production and consumption had so distorted natural human living that people were nearly unable to imagine any other way of living:  the artificial had become natural?

 

THE GARDENER’S CHILDREN

This is a beautiful analogy and reflection of André Houssney about biblical stories based on the planet care.

In these days close to Christmas Day we must remember that God comes to the world to teach us more about the love for everything that surround us.

 

Sin título“Give a man an acre and he will create a garden, rent a man an acre, and he will create a desert.“ Owners feels responsibility for, and the desire to improve and invest in a property, a renter, or hired hand, feels no such responsibility and, in fact, expects others to keep up the property.

For some reason, many Christians have chosen the word “stewardship” to refer to their relationship with creation. While better than the thief, the steward, or hired manager, is not the model that the Bible promotes for us. The Christian model of human’s engagement with creation ought to be that of heirs.

Heirs of Creation

In the book of Genesis, God has gave to human beings the responsibility of ownership and even heirship over the earth. The book of Genesis tells us that God created the earth and it’s creatures, He blessed the animals he had made, the birds, sea animals, livestock, microbes, and wildlife. He called these things “good”. Adam and Eve, and by extension ourselves, are to be seen as the ‘owners’ or ‘rulers’ of the earth and it’s animal and plant communities. Just as the owner of a house cares for and invests in his or her property, we are to care for and invest in that which God has himself loved, invested in and has given to us.

 Jacob and Esau

Esau was a hunter, his younger brother Jacob was a herdsman. A hunter lives by subtracting from the wild herds that form the base of his living, a hunter neither owns nor looks after the animals on which he relies. The hunter lives by taking, not by building.

A herdsman, by contrast, multiplies the base of his living. He cares for and looks after each animal, of the females he keeps all those that have acceptable qualities and raises them to the best of his ability so that they will become productive mothers. The hunter is a thief,  a herdsman is a builder.

Our human society has become an Esau society. We have despised our beautiful birthright and traded it for a quick meal. In a Christ-like way Jacob runs to the well and rolls the stone away. He waters the three flocks of sheep. Even though these animals do not belong to him, he acts as if they do (and eventually some of these flocks do become his).  Jacob is a good-shepherd, he knows how to care for animals and to bring an increase. He has observed nature, watching the seasons and the growth patterns and life of the animals and plants in his area, he has discovered what makes them succeed, he applies his observations tirelessly and over the long-run. He perseveres, observes and improves his flock and that of his father-in-law and he improves the land as well. The Jacob is the one who brings an increase by diligence and obedience.

Cain and Abel

Lord said to Cain “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened it’s mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield to you it’s strength. We find that Man’s sin had resulted in the suffering of the earth and that degradation in turn impacts human communities. Yet in Cain’s cry we hear an anguished sorrow “Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence.” The loss of his inheritance through his own sin is at the root of his anguish.

Restoration and Regeneration

We are heirs of the earth, it is our inheritance, yet we behave less like owners and more like thieves. Rather than seeing the environment as a resource to beexploited, what would happen if we saw the environment as an investment to be nurtured? What kind of an investor would buy a building and begin stripping out all the wiring, nails, wood and stones to sell as building materials? Isn’t the sum more valuable than the parts?

The problem in the way we interact with nature is that we take too little ownership, not too much. We must become good shepherds of creation, In John 10:12-13 Jesus spoke about the value of ownership “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” It’s time for us to recognize our position as children of God and owners and heirs of the earth.

As we take up the work of being the rightful owners of a damaged property we must recognize that we are not alone in this project. John 1:3 reminds us that all things were made through Christ. If we look to his creation as a model we can become restorative managers of creation. Jesus, who is able to absorb the sins of the world, has provided, in nature, the principles of restorative agriculture which we can apply to begin to heal the things that have been broken.

The techniques and principles of restorative agriculture are derived from a recognition of the high value, complexity and design of natural systems and an attempt to mimic them in a human agriculture system.

Psalm 96:10-13:

“The Lord reigns….     Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;     let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;     let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,     he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness     and the peoples in his faithfulness.

St. Malo, the 1000(?) Year Flood and Climate Change

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St. Malo and Rocky Mountain National Park have been changed by the recent rains, and I was absolutely shocked by the power of nature. Cabin Creek which runs through St. Malo became a massive wall of water, trees, rocks and debris that completely reshaped the geography of Mt. Meeker’s eastern basin. The pictures above and video below gives an idea of the devastation. Having lived there for so long and known the trails and forest, the effect of the devastation is  shocking. The creek bed which was at most 10 ft wide is now over 50 ft wide. The pile of water, rocks and debris funelled out of the Meeker eastern face carving its way down the mountain and spread at St. Malo as an alluvial fan over 150 ft. wide, carving a new path for Cabin Creek in the process. The creek flow has now changed. One building is seriously demagaed and the other has disappeared. It appears that the mudslide began at the top of Mt. Meeker as a slide is visible from the distance.

See the video here: http://www.9news.com/news/article/356169/222/Chapel-on-the-Rock-survives-massive-rock-and-mudslide

Now, much debate has followed about the proportions and causes of the flooding in Colorado at large. Impressed by the power of this event, it is easy to want explanations. Many have used the term 1000 year flood, and Roger Pielke Jr. here and here explains why the term is not helpful at best, and in fact incorrect. The flood in fact is a 25-50 year flood:  Colorado has had a lucky streak, the last time Boulder flooded like this was 1894. He explains:

As is often the case in the aftermath of extreme events and disasters, people look for some way to put them into a bigger perspective. With respect to floods, a common way of establishing this perspective is through the N-year flood, which is defined as a flood with 1/N probability of occurring in any given year. So the 100-year flood, used in floodplain regulations, is a flood with an expected 1% chance of occurring in any given year.

Earlier this week, I presented some of my objections to the utility and meaningfulness of the concept of the N-year flood. In this post I show how the concept of the N-year flood can be used to turn fantasy into fact.

In an article titled “The Science Behind Colorado’ Thousand-Year Flood” Time magazine explains:

Parts of Boulder are experiencing a 1-in-1,000 year flood. That doesn’t literally mean that the kind of rainfall seen over the past week only occurs once in a millennium. Rather, it means that a flood of this magnitude only has a 0.1% chance of happening in a given year.Time is a fixture of the mainstream media and what is written there is widely read and repeated.

A big problem with Time‘s article is that Boulder did not actually experience a “1,000-year flood.” In fact, according to an analysis presented by fellow CU faculty member John Pitlick yesterday, using standard hydrological methods, Boulder experienced between a 25- and 50-year flood.

Apart from being incorrect, imprecise statements like this allow for implications, such as the association with climate change as a cause. Pielke Jr. explains here  why in this case, no particular cause can be identified by looking at the effect. However, one possible avenue of exploration for the uniqueness of this episode of rainfall, could be geological research on Cabin Creek. I am no geologist, but given the previous river bed width and depth, perhaps some interesting conclusions could be drawn about the proportions of the rainfall in this very localized and specific place.Furthermore, as part of Rocky Mountain National Park, this area is unaffected by human impacts. Geologically speaking, perhaps it has been 1000 years since Cabin Creek flooded like this, if ever ?

A Catholic American Reflection on Rio

Elias Crim, one of the speakers at the Creatio Conference in Rio, has a wonderful reflection on the city and his experience for WYD. Check it out here, and make sure to browse the online oasis Solidarity Hall for articles, opinion pieces and reflections. For more articles by Elias, see his page here. Below, a section of his Rio article:

But the favelas strike me as operating on the same loose principles of civil action that often apply when dealing with Rio officialdom: everything is a conversation in which both parties have a certain amount of latitude. When students (and others) erupted several weeks ago over higher public transit fares, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff hosted a public roundtable conversation that included several students and during which she cheerfully offered to look at making changes to the Brazilian constitution. I have a hard time imagining any such conversation in the U.S.

A possible metaphor for this flexible, humane attitude is the way Brazilians drive. Whereas Americans are accustomed to staying each within our own lanes of traffic, drivers in Rio must contend with older streets without clearly marked lanes and they are comfortable speeding along with no more than two feet or so of distance between vehicles.

The system seems to work because everyone, pedestrians included, holds to the same standard of alertness and instinctive caution. In narrow city streets, that is, well-marked lanes are less necessary if everyone rises to the community standard of head’s-up motoring.

I must end this post soon before I lapse into the same kind of effusive reaction over Brazil that I recall having many years ago when I first saw Italy. If you want to visit a communal society, head for this place. If this doesn’t sound too odd, it has, I think, made me a much better Catholic.

Creatio Conference gearing up

Sam Lass taking a break (kind of) from building an organic garden for an impoverished school in Petropolis, Brazil during a Creatio Mission last year. (August 2012)

Today I have received official confirmation of Cardinal Peter Turkson’s participation as the keynote speaker at the Creatio Conference to be held during World Youth Day in Rio 2013. Cardinal Turkson is the President for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, and represents the Holy See on issues that concern the environment. Creatio is delighted and honored to have the Cardinal’s participation. Cardinal Turkson has given several speeches on related themes, such as a recent one here on the encyclical Pacem in Terris:

Allow me to share my own experiences too. While Archbishop of Cape Coast, I chaired Ghana’s National Peace Council. My beliefs in the deep yearning of all people for dignity, respect and peace were essential to how I led this group. We were involved in a wide variety of issues, but none more difficult than the tense national elections in late 2008. We did not judge or criticize or pick sides. We constantly brought stakeholders together for dialogue and kept communication lines open. I have been assured that we played a major role in achieving social peace during this period….

However, a Pope or Cardinal is not exclusively a crisis-intervener on the world stage. A more typical role, and just as crucial, is to keep reminding the world of the deepest truths. For example, in September 2010, I led the delegation of the Holy See to the UN to discuss the Millennium Development Goals and the chance of attaining the goal of eliminating global poverty by 2015. Curiously, some of the methods of the anti-poverty campaign tended to target the poor in ways that suggest that the solution to global poverty is to eliminate the poor. The delegation of the Holy See intervened vigorously. Reflecting on human dignity and personhood, we reminded the assembly that combating poverty requires investments in the resourcefulness of the poor, making them protagonists in their emergence out of poverty, and not eliminating them. The poor need education to transform them from dependency to resourcefulness.

Soon I will publish the list and conference schedule of our incredible speakers to this year’s conference in Rio. You can read more about the conference here and Creatio here.

Finally, other Creatio members are making their way to Brazil already. Kelsey Teran, trip leader and communications adviser is in Chile working with education, see this article here.