Excerpts from the pastoral letter draft


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

We offer here a pastoral reflection, derived from Christian teachings about creation and ecology developed over the ages from their biblical origins. We speak with the voices of faith and compassion, and ask those with greater scientific and social expertise to enter into dialogue with the ideas and insights presented, and to help provide an extended holistic document and ongoing process.

... Eventually, the complexities of urban life and technological development permeated the region. The River People were forced to live a modified way of life on severely diminished lands, and the salmon runs became less abundant. ... As a consequence of human need and greed, God's earth suffered, and communities suffered with the earth - even while seeming to prosper.

... We have been conscious in our region of the rights and needs of indigenous peoples, and have regretted our complicity as a Church in their unjust suffering and our lack of respect for the spiritual ways in which they have followed the call of the God whom we all worship. In our national pastoral letter, 1992: A Time for Reconciling and Recommitting Ourselves as a People - Pastoral Reflections on the V Centenary and Native American People, we declared that "... the coming of religious faith in this land began not 500 years ago, but centuries before in the prayers, chants, dance and other sacred celebrations of Native people."

... Throughout the watershed, in the U.S. and Canada, jobs have been gained by industrial development, and the regional economy and tax base for communities have been augmented; but other jobs have been lost, and the overall economic benefit from industry might well be less than the economic benefit that would have resulted from retention or development of fishing and of renewable energy sources.

... Clear-cutting removes needed shade for salmon spawning grounds, promotes erosion by wind and water, and causes creeks and rivers to become clogged with silt. Trees have value added as lumber, but often this work is not done in the U.S. and Canada but on ships bound for the Orient. ... Corporate, capital-intensive operations and profit maximization practices, more than environmental laws, are costing timber-related jobs.

...Greed, ignorance, irresponsibility and abuse of economic and political power cause these problems and injustices. Pollution of the air, land and water by emissions, effluents and runoffs from resource extraction, industrial processes, agricultural chemicals and consumer excesses is harming the land, wildlife and people. Salmon, the indicator species of the life community, are becoming extinct, endangered or threatened (even when not officially so designated). Native peoples' rights have been continually ignored, even when guaranteed by treaties and laws. Working people's wages are sometimes below poverty level. Habitat for many species is violated.

... Over time, the sharing perspective and practices and concern for creation expressed by regional religions faded for peoples of the watershed. Gradually a new consciousness and new social structures emphasized the legal rights and wants of the powerful, rather than the human rights and needs of the poor. In some cases, an exaggerated individualism went beyond a legitimate concern for the dignity of individual human persons, and supplanted community bonds and concern for all neighbors.

... Humans constitute one species among a multitude of living organisms that inhabit the Columbia River watershed. Our Christian tradition teaches that the human species, whose members are images of God, has a particular responsibility to care for God's creation.

We are indeed a community of life, a family of God's creatures. As such, we should seek to enhance our relations not only with other members of the human communities around us ... but also with other lives and with the landscapes we inhabit together and on which we all depend for our needs. We share with other species a common origin ... and we share a common bond as participants in the dynamics of our planet.

... We live in a literal watershed, and are simultaneously at a figurative watershed moment, a time of making important decisions to restore this place we call home and habitat.

... As a watershed people, we must analyze our regional situation ... What might the Columbia River watershed look like if it were regarded and treated as a sacramental commons, a shared ecosystem revealing God to us?

... The Columbia watershed should have living water (John 4:7), in a physical and spiritual sense:

- Water that is flowing pure;

- Water that reveals God's creative work;

- Water that symbolizes God's presence in our midst;

- Water that is a sign of God's grace showered on us.

The Columbia watershed should be sacramental. It should reveal God's loving creativity in its diversity of creatures, topography and people, and its ability to provide food and shelter for its inhabitants.

At this dawn of a new millennium, people should look at the spiritual meaning of "sacramental" and the social meaning of "commons' and apply them jointly to the Columbia watershed and to other ecologically integrated regions.

... One way we express our participation in the reign of God is by implementing contemporary expressions of the Jubilee Year (celebrated every 25 years). What might be our vision for the adaptation of the Jubilee for our own time and place?

1. Rest for the land will be implemented by responsible care for the ecosystem entrusted by God to our care ...

2. Freedom for slaves will be implemented as freedom for the poor of the land.

3. Cancellation of debts will be implemented by an economic restructuring based on the needs of the poor ...

4. Land redistribution will be implemented by a just redistribution of the land and water and the rights pertaining to each, to benefit the common good.

... Forests will be allowed to be forests, growths of flourishing trees and associated vegetation of varied ages and diverse types, in which timber gathering is done with a minimal disturbance to the land and water and a maximum utilization of nonmotorized techniques. ...

Fish populations will be abundant, responding to restored habitat, rejuvenated river flows and regulated ocean-fishing operations.

Farms will be carefully integrated into their environment, and prosper through the provision of healthy food grown organically with natural fertilizers and pest controls. ... In Canada, farmlands expropriated but not used for a perceived public good are returned to their owners.

Mine owners and managers will operate conscious of their responsibility to care for creation and respect local communities' needs.

... Salmon should be respected as a creation of God and as a source of life for people and other members of the biotic community.

... We urge environmental organizations to explore areas of common interest and action with parish groups to restore and renew the Columbia watershed. ... They would share in the church's concern for the poor and vulnerable of the watershed who are most impacted by environmental destruction, and work with the poor to meet their economic and employment needs in a sustainable ecological context.

... People are part of the natural world, not separate from it. They need to alter that world at times to provide for their needs. Appropriately designed and integrated human alterations to the landscape can work with the existing and evolving ecosystem.

... Let us put our vision into practice. Let us be native to our watershed. Let us go forth with the Spirit to renew the face of the Earth.

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