Land and environment in PN spotlight

The suffering of people is often linked to the way we treat the planet. A reflection from workshops held in the Palmerston North diocese during Social Justice Week in September.

Local and international concerns over land emerged from seminars held in the Palmerston North diocese in the build-up to Social Justice Week in September.

Organised by Rex Begley, Bishop’s assistant for social justice in the diocese, each of the seminars featured a visiting speaker on spirituality and the environment, followed by a panel of local speakers on various aspects of caring for land, environment and people. A Caritas presentation showed how the organisation has learnt, through its justice and development work, that the suffering of people is often related to the way we treat the planet. Each of the seminars drew 35-40 people.

At Palmerston North and Hawke’s Bay seminars, keynote speaker Fr Neil Vaney SM spoke on the importance of ‘place’. He said many ‘non-places’ in the world—airports, malls, motorways—provide a false universalisation that ‘removes the particular which gives a place its identity’.

He said the sense of place is ‘at war with the rootlessness that’s the result of enlightenment science and reductionist economics’, which consider things in term of ‘how it can be used’ or ‘what money can be made from it’.

At Whanganui and Taranaki, keynote speaker Fr Neil Darragh of Auckland diocese spoke about the importance of moving from a person-centred spirituality, to a human-centred spirituality, and to an earth-centred spirituality. A person-centred spirituality tends to focus on an individual’s personal development; a human-centred spirituality considers social justice and the wellbeing of humanity; while an earth-centred spirituality considers the wellbeing of all creation.

In the Palmerston North seminar, attention in the local panel discussion focused on the state of the Manawatu River, particularly arising from soil erosion and dairy industry pollution.

At the Hawke’s Bay seminar, hosted by Taradale parish, local historian and writer Pat Parsons discussed recent legal action to protect nearby landmark Te Mata Peak.

Eileen von Dadelzon asked why Catholic schools were generally so far behind in environmental education. She said the slogan ‘think globally, act locally’ needed to be extended with ‘respond personally’—each of us has a responsibility to act.

Ruth Smithies, who has lived in four different countries in her life, said her most spiritual experiences have generally come not from places, but from people, ‘particularly the non-beautiful people’.

She paraphrased the Beatitudes (Mt 5): ‘Happy are the cracked, because they’re able to let God shine through.’

Anna Alridge has lived all her life in Hawke’s Bay. As a Year 13 Sacred Heart College student, she said her opinions ‘are only just forming’, and they’ve been shaped by her parents and her school. People needed to look to the generation bringing up children, because really ‘they control the future’.