Interconnectedness of all of God’s Creation

Ecology Ministry in Pangasinan -

by Sr Cristita De Leon, SSC

 Sr Cristita De leon, SSC

Six years ago, Sr. Gloria Santos, in collaboration with the Lay Associates of the Columban Sisters, established a small ecology center in Uyong, Labrador, Pangasinan  in the Northern Philippines. She had two important goals; One, is to help alleviate the living conditions of the families there,  and two, is to increase awareness within the community of the environmental problems.

During the second year of the COVID pandemic, I had the chance to know some of the families in the area when I immersed myself in the locality and appreciated the nature around me. The landscape is incredible with the seas on one end and the farms leading up to the mountain on the other.

However, a closer look to the scenery would identify a range of problems. The water in the streams changed color, the creeks were clogged up with trash, and heavy rains push all the rubbish down to the bigger streams that lead into the sea. Along the beach, dead fish were left rotting with plastic bottles, old tangled fishing nets and other rubbish.

Cleaning up the beach

In those early mornings when I walked along the shore, I often asked myself how many local people had the chance to pause and consider the root causes of the destruction and exploitation of nature.  Their daily struggles and toil for survival meant that most of them hardly had the chance to stop, look and see that their environment was filling up with filth.  Their lack of awareness was symptomatic of the daily thoughtlessness which resulted in the destruction and exploitation of the rich gifts of their environment.

Finding concrete steps to mobilize others specifically a small group of mothers, and engage in caring for Mother Earth, was a challenge.  Gradually, we began to work together as a group despite the restrictions in place.  The pandemic taught me to embrace what life offers each day and find God in each situation and trust in His providence.

There were many days when no one was selling fish because the fishermen came back to shore with empty nets.      Going to the market was also unsafe because of COVID.  Together with Beth, a Lay Associate, we visited the barangay leader to share with him our growing concern on waste management.  Fortunately, he was very supportive of our advocacy group and he made a commitment to join us in our clean up drive of the beach, canal and the streams.

We also began to work with the mothers and spent time, reflection and prayer with them.  We introduced them to mindfulness while working and eating meals. At times we invited them to do each task in silence, allowing themselves to be aware of every detail of what they were doing, fetching water from the pump, washing and cleaning fish and vegetables, gathering firewood for cooking, etc. We tried to guide them to think of the origin of every object they were holding – where did this come from? Who made it? How important is it in your daily life? How long did it take for nature to take care and produce all these through the sustaining grace of our Creator?

When we were ready to partake of the food, we invited them to think and recall the many hands that labored before the food reached us – the farmers, fisherman, factory works, vendors, those who transported crops and goods from remote farms to towns and cities.  As we shared the meal, we also sensed God’s grace flowing into each of us and we hoped that this grace would flow out to others.

When the mothers returned home, they carried with them the desire to continue to find answers to their many questions – how do we understand the meaning of our interconnectedness with all of God’s creation? How can we pass on this awareness to our children? How can we encourage our family members to look around and see our connection with God’s creation? In what concrete ways can we take care of God’s gift of life, shared by all of us?  How can we develop mindfulness as we continue to receive God’s grace in and though creation? These are the questions I continue to look answers for.

Sr Cristita de Leon is a member of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban from the Philippines. She spent 10 years teaching religious education and English in the sisters' high school. Now ministering in Myanmar, she has also worked in Peru and the Philippines. She is a member of her congregation's Laudato Sí' Animating Team.

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