Indian Catholics respond to papal mandate on environment

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Dioceses change modes of operation while influencing community members

Nearly a year after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, dioceses and church agencies across India have launched several projects implementing the spirit of the papal document.

Awareness campaigns and drives for tree plantation drives, organic farming, solar panels for green energy and eco-friendly methods in day-to-day life are some of the ways church people are doing their bit to save the environment.

Indian Catholics respond to papal mandate on environment

Children take part in the Pope4Planet campaign, which was organized by Caritas India in July last year. (Photo by Ritu Sharma)

"When the pope says something, people see it as a mandate and want to implement it in letter and spirit," said Frederick D'Souza, executive director of Caritas India, the church's social service arm.

Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato si', released June 19, expressed concern of human habits leading to a fast degradation of the environment.

Father D'Souza said awareness drives in dioceses and parishes about saving the environment have increased after the encyclical came out.

Almost every diocesan social service wing has some projects that aim to protect the environment, with many being awareness programs for organic farming methods.

"Even we (Caritas office) have reduced the use of paper in our meetings and encourage more and more screen presentations. Also the use of plastic bottles has been reduced," he said.

The Delhi Archdiocese's social service wing Chetnalaya raises awareness among staff and students of diocesan schools by encouraging the use of recycled paper and to live an eco-friendly life.

Father Savari Raj, director of Chetnalaya, told that they are encouraging people to use less water, use more public transportation, plant trees, use solar energy and compost waste.

The Delhi Archdiocese also has dedicating two acres of land in the northern Indian state of Haryana to make an energy environment park for children, where they can come and learn about the nature and ways to save it.

"The response to Laudato si' has been very positive until now. Catholics are environment friendly people and are always ready to bring in changes to help protect the environment," Father Raj said.

Several religious congregations are installing solar panels in their institutions to makes them less dependent on conventional electricity and generate green and sustainable energy.

For example, Jesuits in Kolkata installed solar power panels at St. Xavier's College last December.

Its principal Father Felix Raj said the endeavor expresses the Jesuits' deep concern for the environment.

Jesuit Father Robert Athickal, an environmentalist and founder of the nationwide Tarumitra (friends of trees) said his students are "keeping up the momentum" to protect the environment.

"The students are talking of organic farming as a spirituality of treating the Earth with reverence. Due to the efforts of Tarumitra students, organic cultivation has caught up in states of Meghalaya, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala," he said.

Some 200,000 students are part of the organization promoting ecological sensitivity.

Father Athickal said Indian thinking takes for granted that the Earth is a mother. Modern lifestyles have been destroying the matrix of life.

"We need to make ancient Indian insights of eco-spirituality alive and active in our spiritual lives. The tribal and Hindu spiritualties had a strong undercurrent of the insight that the Earth is a mother," he said.

"It is time for us to think of greater freedom to organize liturgical services outdoors consciously and conspicuously," he said.