The Devastating Effect of Irresponsible Mining Practices

miningFor over forty years, I ministered around the Appalachian coalfields. Because of this, I was invited to Rome, July 17-19, 2015, to represent the mountains at “United with God, We Hear a Cry,” a conference dealing with communities affected by mining activities.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in collaboration with the Latin American “Churches and Mining” network, the meeting convened grass-roots representatives from 18 countries: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Columbia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Mozambique, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and the Philippines.

Transnational mining corporations exert disproportionate power over most local communities with negative results, which raises grave concerns for Rome. Too frequently, the mining practices violate the human rights of workers, destroy local environments, introduce negative health impacts, greatly enable substance abuse, allow prostitution and human trafficking, threaten local cultures, and have ties to organized crime.

After citing many of these abuses, Pope Francis in a letter to the participants stated clearly: “The entire mining sector is undoubtedly required to effect a radical paradigm change to improve the situation in many countries.”

The stories from the participants underscored that sentiment.

A representative from the native peoples of Canada said a breached mine tailing dam in upper British Columbia released 25 million cubic meters of debris into Lake William and polluted the crystal clear lake where 80 million salmon spawn.

Worse, a Philippine village witnessed the killing of the mayor’s wife and two sons, because he opposed the mining practices. Others in the village received the “blanket” threat–the symbol of wrapping for death. Continuously participants told stories from mining practices. They told about violence, dishonesty, and theft, besides testimonials about pollution, destruction, and sickness.

Shortly after returning from Rome, I toured with Bishop John Stowe, our new bishop of Lexington, KY, around the nearby coalfields. We heard stories similar to those from the international conference.

One family we met contracted with a company to mine 70 acres for coal, but instead saw the company illegally mine 90 acres, allegedly because the company changed the property map.

Another fellow said the blasting from mining caused a separation in his brick home large enough to put his fist into the gap.

Still another complained the mining company never paid him the agreed amount for the coal that they mined. Instead, he found the payments delayed until the company declared bankruptcy, and then he witnessed operations resumed under a different name without the liability.

Add to these stories the discarded miners with black lung, the numerous kids with asthma and the increased rates of cancer for women attributed to mining practices, and we can see that Appalachia unfortunately shares much of the same dishonesty, theft, and despoiled environment that breeds sickness and human distress discussed at the international conference.

On the local level, Catholic parishes not only respond to victims of mining-induced floods and mudslides always by supplying temporary shelters and home furnishings, but also conducting community prayer services. These services bring spiritual healing and insight by directing prayer against mining injustices.

Nationally, people of faith must awaken to the link between the demand for mine products and their lifestyles.

Conference participants acknowledged the need to train bishops, priests, and seminarians about Laudato Sí, and extend this to all the faithful. Dialogue within the church and with mining interests remains key, while divestiture from businesses supporting bad practices requires action.

Ultimately, we people of faith must reflect the teachings from Laudato Sí and pursue an integral ecology that links the poor, the earth, and human community in the web of life. 

headshot of Fr. John Rausch

 

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches, writes and organizes around justice issues in Appalachia.

Pope Francis: “Do unto Others” Has Global Implications

photograph of Bishop Oscar Cantu

Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces

Pope Francis has now returned to Vatican City, but we remain inspired and moved to action by his words and actions during his visit to the U.S. and the U.N.

As Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, I would like to recall some of his powerful international challenges to our nation and world in his own words.

To the U.S. Congress

On Immigrants and Refugees

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.”

Immigrants “travel north in search of a better life…for their loved ones. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

On Global Poverty

“How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty!”

“Now is the time for…combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Continue reading

Working Together for a Better Life

Fr. Ty Hullinger

Fr. Ty Hullinger is pastor in Baltimore, Maryland

This spring’s uprisings in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson have forced us to a greater awareness and acknowledgment of the root causes of systemic violence that affects working families each day in America.

This is the kind of violence fomented by unemployment, poverty wages, jobs without medical benefits, lack of affordable housing, privatization of public utilities and services like water, hostile union busting and union avoidance campaigns, and organized public and private-sector disinvestment in neighborhoods where most people actually live. In many instances, this is exacerbated by the stain of racism that communities of color face.

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium,

“The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. . . . This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root” (no.59).

In offering this way to analyze the origins and power of this kind of systemic violence, Pope Francis reminds us that this violence is a response to the drastic inequality that results from rapid economic globalization and accompanying market forces that want to turn everything into a commodity that can be bought or sold. And this leads to a throwaway culture that threatens the existence of every living thing.

So timely are the Pope’s words to people in America!

Laudato Si’ and Evangelii Gaudium are fast becoming powerful learning tools for people engaging in community organizing efforts to end the systemic violence that is poverty. In the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland (a tightly-knit residential community surrounded by large industrial properties), Laudato Si’ is being studied by an interfaith, multicultural, and intergenerational group of residents who formed a human rights committee called Free Your Voice with the help of United Workers (a local human rights organization formed by low-wage workers and currently funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development). Free Your Voice is working to stop the development of what would become the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator on land near a community that already suffers extremely high rates of cancer and other pollution-related diseases. As a part of that campaign, a Laudato Si’ study group came together to discuss what it might be saying to us.

One part that especially spoke to us was the section called Civic And Political Love (nos. 228-232). We felt like the Pope was speaking directly to us in America when he says:

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.” (no. 229)

We have had enough of racism, sexism, pollution, income inequality, union busting, disinvestment, hyper-policing of African-American communities, and all of the violence which mocks and hurts working families. Though spring has turned into a long, hot and especially violent summer, we still have hope.

This Labor Day is an opportunity to remember how our families, labor unions, community organizations, and faith communities are places where civic and political love endures and makes itself known in the efforts of people to work together for a better life for all.

Fr. Ty Hullinger is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, St. Dominic, and Most Precious Blood parishes in Baltimore, Maryland and a member of Interfaith Worker Justice of Maryland and the Priest-Labor Initiative.


 

Pope Francis Hears Cries of Poor, Earth

Colecchi headshotWhen Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, he chose the name Francis for a reason. He wanted to take his inspiration from St. Francis, the man who loved peace, the poor and God’s creation. His encyclical, Laudato Si’, embodies those commitments.

Pope Francis says in a prayer, “The poor and the earth are crying out.” The question is: Will we hear and respond to their cry?

The world’s poor are already suffering ecological devastation. Extractive industries in Latin America often violate environmental standards, poisoning the health of children, women and men, and destroying aquifers and agriculture. Conflict in Africa is frequently driven by shifts in climate. It is no secret that the violence between Arab Muslim herders and African Muslim farmers in Darfur was driven in large part by competition for land as desertification robbed communities of pastures. In Asia, the devastation of the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan attests to how storms have intensified and poorer countries with fewer resources and less resilience are in great danger.

Pope Francis argues powerfully: “In the present state of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (no. 158).

He goes on to describe the kind of support developed nations, like our own, ought to provide to developing countries: “For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. … They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet” (no. 172).

Pope Francis reminds us that population is not the problem, waste and a throw-away society are: “To blame population growth instead of an extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues” (no. 50).

What does all this mean? It means we need to act, to act as both individuals and a nation.

As individuals, we need to resist the allure of consumerism: “Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction” (no. 204). “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume” (no. 204).

The Holy Father is calling us to live more simply and more fully! “It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full” (no. 223).

As a nation, we need to pursue international policies that save the poor and the planet. Pope Francis calls for a “global consensus” to confront “the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries” (no. 164). In response, our nation needs to support “enforceable international agreements” and “global regulatory norms” (no. 173). The United States will have an opportunity to do just that at the Global Climate Summit in Paris in December. One thing we should put on the table is a robust financial commitment to the Green Climate Fund, a fund to help poor nations develop in sustainable, “green” ways, unlike us, and to be more resilient in the face of more frequent droughts, stronger storms and sea level rise.

When we act in these ways as individuals and a nation, we will have truly heard the cries of the poor and the earth.

Stephen M. Colecchi is Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.