Sacred Rights to Land and Work

Samantha Opachan

Samantha Opachan

In Pope Francis’ Address to the Participants of the World Meeting of Popular Movements last year, he stated, “love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel. Land, housing and work, what you struggle for, are sacred rights. To make this claim is nothing unusual; it is the social teaching of the Church.” One increasingly common way rights can be disregarded is through unsustainable development practices that neglect both the environment and communities experiencing poverty.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) supports communities throughout the United States in their efforts to address issues of sustainable development. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without putting future generations at risk. It places a special emphasis on responsible stewardship of the environment, the needs of those living in poverty, and the development of individuals and communities.

The common good, the preservation of Creation, our rights and responsibilities, and the dignity of all people are interwoven. To promote the common good includes working towards a sustainable development that respects the dignity of all people. Our stewardship of creation and economic practices should not exploit precious resources or vulnerable communities.

CCHD empowers low-income groups to promote sustainable development in their communities through advocacy and economic initiatives. Since 2013, CCHD has invested nearly 2.5 million dollars and partnered with over 35 low-income community-based organizations and 31 dioceses in 22 states to support environmental justice.

One issue that CCHD funded groups are wrestling with is fracking. By rapidly converting rural and natural areas into industrial zones, the practice of fracking can negatively impact the environment and lead to adverse effects on public health and local economies. In New York, an ecumenical group receiving a CCHD grant, Moving in Congregations Acting in Hope (MICAH), recognized the negative effects fracking was having on their community’s farmland, livestock, public health, and water and air. MICAH supported poor and working families to mobilize resources, build relationships and take action. Their successful efforts helped protect their community from potential drill sites.

CCHD funded groups are also helping to create economic opportunities that protect the environment for low-income communities. Appalachia is a region of our nation devastated by lack of employment. Manufacturing substantially left many southern communities in the late 1990’s. Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned cut and sew cooperative in Western North Carolina, recognized that the textile industry needed to be innovative and predicated their business model on community centeredness and sustainability. Opportunity Threads works for positive environmental, economic and social impacts for both clients and workers. They exemplify an environmentally and economically sustainable model by focusing on production that uses organic cotton and reusable materials, as well as advancing the skills of workers and promoting fair labor. Opportunity Threads has grown into a strong business that will lead to lasting social, economic and environmental change in an Appalachia community that has traditionally struggled.

Our faith calls us to be good stewards of the environment. Sustainable practices support the protection of the both the environment and communities which are most vulnerable. For more information about the environmental justice work of CCHD groups and their communities, check out these Stories of Hope.

Samantha Opachan is an intern with the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Environmental Justice Program. She is a Master of Social Work student at The Catholic University of America.

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