Caring for the land

Applying wisdom and insight from Māori mythology and Catholic spirituality to caring for the earth – a Wellington West reflection for Social Justice Week in September.

 There are many similarities between Māori and Catholic spiritualities of caring for the earth, young Māori Catholic Areti Metuamate told a Wellington West pastoral area gathering for Social Justice Week in September. The discussion on caring for the land attracted about 40 participants at Wellington’s Mercy Centre.

Areti, who is Secretary of Te Runanga o Te Hahi Katorika ki Aotearoa, the National Catholic Māori Council, said that although neither the Christian nor Māori creation myths are intended to be read literally, there is wisdom and insight to be learned from those stories.

Māori mythology and spirituality recognise the earth and sky as tupuna or ancestors of all living beings. ‘We are thinking about the land from a whakapapa perspective—how would you treat your mother?’

Areti said he learned something of caring for the earth as a child with his grandparents planting taewa, or Māori potatoes, on his family land.

‘No movie or David Attenborough documentary is going to teach me as much as the memory of getting my hands in the soil and growing my potatoes.’

Marist Peter Healy caught the attention of participants by cutting an apple and peeling off the small piece of apple peel that covered the surface of one 32nd of a slice of apple.

‘This is how much of the earth’s surface is capable of supporting us.’

He explained the principles of permaculture, as an ethical and design system for creating sustainable human settlement. He said the principles of permaculture are human-centred rather than technology-centred, and are focused on creating sustainable ways of living and using the planet.

Penny Currier explained to participants how worm farms can create more fertile soil and reduce waste. All participants were invited to take away a bottle of what evening organiser Sr Marcellin Wilson euphemistically referred to as ‘worm output’.

After a brief introduction to some land and environmental issues in international development work supported by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, Cathy Bolinga of Caritas Papua New Guinea explained land ownership in her own country.

She said that with a population of more than five million people and with over 865 different cultural and language groups, there are many different forms of traditional land ownership, including both ‘papa graun’ and ‘mama graun’—patrilineal and matrilineal forms of passing on land ownership within families.

The Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands was the first Catholic Bishops Conference of Oceania to recognise the importance of environmental issues through pastoral letters in the mid-1980s.

Cathy quoted from the PNG Bishops, ‘to all humanity, both present and future, God handed over the earth and all its content as a common heritage. We can use the environment now but must conserve it for future use, too.’

A second seminar on the theme ‘Caring for the People’ is planned for 31 October. The seminar was organised as a joint Social Justice Week celebration of the parishes of the Wellington West pastoral area (Cathedral, Northland and Karori).