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Local conference addresses moral environmental issues

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

DAYTON DEANERY — “Holding the Earth Lightly: A Call to Care for People and the Planet” was the theme of this year’s Catholic Relief Services Global Solidarity Conference, held Feb. 27 at the University of Dayton. The conference addressed what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls the “moral challenge” posed by the global environmental crisis.

This challenge “calls us to examine how we use and share the goods of the earth, what we pass on to future generations, and how we live in harmony with God’s creation,” the bishops wrote in the pastoral statement “Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching.”

 Shaun Ferris
Shaun Ferris (CRS photo)

In the conference’s keynote address, Shaun Ferris described Catholic Relief Services’ agricultural strategy and its four pillars of agricultural intervention. These include agricultural support around the world for emergency response, health, environment and income.
Ferris is senior technical advisor for agriculture and environment at Catholic Relief Services (CRS). He has worked in more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and also has published three books.

“There is no ‘Planet B,’” Ferris said of the importance of caring for the environment. He described the effects of deforestation, livestock pressure, population growth and urbanization around the world, including crop failures and the drying of lakes. “The poor are suffering from this already in very large numbers. They don’t really have much of a voice around the world, and they have very few technologies available to them,” he said. “It’s very much a moral issue and a planetary issue.”
Ferris described CRS’ work in the most remote, poor places, where it organizes farmers and helps them with crop selection, market analysis and development of a business plan.
“We’re transitioning away from ‘handouts’ to sharing knowledge,” he said. “It may take slightly longer for people to get the kind of successes that you can get with a handout, but many more people can use this knowledge. And once they’ve got the idea, they can use it to become self-sufficient.”
Katy Ryan, program/advocacy officer in the CRS Midwest regional office, spoke about CRS’ work in Haiti prior to and following the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake. CRS has had a presence in Haiti for 50 years; more than 300 staff members were working there prior to the earthquake. She said the operation will now expand and adapt to the current situation. She also pointed out that most CRS staff members in Haiti are Haitian; they also lost their homes or family members in the tragedy.
The conference also featured a number of workshops, including a presentation about the church’s growing environmental tradition by Tony Stieritz, director of the archdiocesan Catholic Social Action Office.
Parishioners from the Precious Planet Ministry at St. Francis of Assisi in Centerville discussed forming a parish “green team.” Other workshops addressed urban pollution and making everyday environmental choices.
Pam Long, regional director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Social Action Office in Dayton, said the hoped participants “left the conference nurtured by the spirituality of ‘Holding the Earth Lightly’ and strengthened by practical ways to care for people and the planet.” She said that the annual event provides an opportunity for parishioners throughout the diocese and the general public to “examine social issues through the lens of the Gospel.”

“Catholics and all people should care about the environment because God created it for us,” she said. “You don’t get too far into the first book of the Bible before you realize that creation is a gift from God. Our response should be one of gratitude illustrated by our stewardship of this wonderful gift of creation.”

CRS is one of the world’s leading nongovernmental organizations and is active in more than 100 countries. In addition to agriculture assistance, the organization also supports people in the areas of education, emergency response, health, HIV and AIDS, microfinance and peace building, among others.
The fourth annual Global Solidarity Conference was co-sponsored by the Catholic Social Action Office, CRS Midwest Office, CRS Committee of the archdiocesan Catholic Social Action Commission, University of Dayton Center for Social Concern, and Marianist Environmental Education Center.

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