Image: Mother Earth


In this week's blog Sister Isabel Smyth reflects on 'Mother Earth' and how the inherent rights of nature are being recognised in the law.

According to an article on the BBC website, a court in India has declared the river Ganges a legal "person" in an effort to save it from pollution. Nor is the Ganges the only natural phenomenon to receive this designation. Among others are glaciers, jungles, grasslands, even the air itself - all declared as legal “persons”.

This is an attempt to look upon nature as an entity with fundamental rights rather than as a resource to be used and abused. The article says “environmental laws only focus on regulating exploitation. But this is now changing, with calls for the inherent rights of nature to be recognised, both in India and around the world”. Similar legislation is being introduced in Ecuador and New Zealand.

There are, as you would suspect, complications in applying these rights but it does focus on strategies we can employ to care for this earth on which we depend for life.

So many of us are now divorced from nature and see the earth’s resources as ours to use for our own benefit and comfort, despite the endless list of the devastating effects of our behaviour – including climate change, extinction of species, environmental disasters, overuse of fossil fuels, pollution, and deforestation.
And we are all implicated in these disasters and contribute to them – industry and business in big ways, but all of us in little ways. I heard someone call this the Great Unravelling.

We are in fact destroying ourselves. 

Perhaps one day there will be a move to declare the earth itself a legal person, and we do have to recover a sense of the sacredness of the earth.  This sense is a gift that indigenous and pagan religions can offer us all – even the major religions.  Aloysius Pieris, a Catholic theologian from Sri Lanka, suggests that the major world religions succeeded because they incorporated into themselves aspects of the indigenous, so-called pagan religions. Many of the world faiths have their sacred places, including sacred mountains, sacred wells and sacred rivers. These traditions remind us of our connectedness to the earth, of our responsibility for it, of our gratitude to it for our very livelihood, of its inherent sacredness, of our responsibility to care for it and bring it healing.  Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we think it’s a miracle to walk on water, but the real miracle is to walk on this earth and we should do this with reverence and respect. 

Hinduism and Buddhism have much to teach us about our attitude to our planet.  Buddhism realises the interconnectedness of all things and the need for compassion for all sentient beings.  Hinduism’s personification of the sacred can lead to a sense of respect and reverence.

I like the idea of thinking of the earth as a living organism, as an expression of the Sacred, as our Mother who provides for us and is the source of our life. If we could adopt this attitude perhaps we could embrace her suffering, look upon her with new eyes and work for her healing and well-being.


This is shortened version of this article first published on 7/4/14 at

Image: Families Can't Wait


Justice and Peace Scotland’s vice chair & commissioner for Argyll & the Isles, Marian Pallister, reflects on our on-going Give Me Five campaign.

Towards the end of 2018, I found myself begging mums and grannies in my parish in Argyll and the Isles to be photographed with a laminated poster reading ‘Families can’t wait’. Not surprisingly, everyone I approached was only too eager to pose with the poster – because they understood how much our Justice and Peace Scotland ‘Give Me Five’ campaign is needed.
They weren’t alone in wanting to speed up the Scottish Government’s response to our call for an extra £5 a week to help lift thousands of children out of poverty. Justice and Peace Scotland commissioners in every diocese collected dozens of pictures like mine to remind the decision makers in Holyrood of the urgency that the 2019/20 budget and Scottish Government spending plans include that top-up to child benefit.
We’ve been campaigning with the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland for this top-up for too long, and that’s why we added this rider that ‘families can’t wait’.
And they can’t. Poverty affects one in four children in Scotland. To put that into context, count the children in your street, up your close, in your children’s class at school - the children preparing for Confirmation in your parish. Now imagine that one in every four of those children may lack a full school uniform, a pair of winter shoes, breakfast. That’s why we’re campaigning.
Our parish is involved with a local charity that provides emergency packs for individuals and families in crisis. Your parish probably has something similar going on.
I helped pack up ‘special’ Christmas parcels for that charity. The only information we were given was an identification number and whether the pack was for an individual or a family. A big percentage of the 25 packs were for families.  We are a rural area – your parish is probably donating on a much bigger scale. But let’s think of the people, not the number of packs. What we included in packs for our social work department that day meant that on Christmas Day, the children would be able to pig out (!) on tinned steak and kidney pie, tinned peas, tinned fruit and ‘special’ chocolate biscuits. As we finished the packing, social workers asked for two more emergency packs for families. I went home and wept.
This week Derek Mackay MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, told Give Me Five campaigners that the Scottish Government shares our commitment to ensure it does ‘all we can to tackle the deep seated inequalities in our society’ but that it is a complex task to change a reserved benefit and so it will be taking its time to consider the issue of giving that extra fiver in benefit. 
I can only pray that children who relied on charity for something vaguely resembling a ‘good meal’ at Christmas 2018 will literally get a bigger share of the cake at Christmas 2019. And that Mr Mackay and his colleagues come to understand that families really can’t wait because children’s lives are dribbling away in Dickensian misery.

Image: Rolling out Laudato Sí – On Care for our Common Home – in the Irish Church


To get our new year of environmental campaiging underway, Lorna Gold of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference writes this week's blog and reflects on the decision of the Irish church to divest from fosil fuels. 

Following the publication of Laudato Sí in 2015, in Ireland there was a strong sense that we had to do something significant to ensure that this letter did not remain mere words on paper.

However, the task ahead seemed very daunting. In an over-stretched church, dwindling in numbers, Laudato Sí risked being seen as an irrelevance to the vast majority of Catholics.

However, those involved in justice, peace and creation care felt a major step was required. Meeting shortly after the launch of Laudato Sí, we agreed that a working group on the encyclical under the auspices of the Bishops’ Conference would be very helpful. The bishops agreed and the group was established. It includes scholars and experts in the areas of theology, climatology, international development, pastoral work and education.

Almost all of the members were lay people who gave their time voluntarily.
Over the past two years the group has gone from strength to strength, awakening the call to action in Laudato Sí across the church. A key approach has been to provide materials for reflection and in-service trainings to clergy and staff of the Church – starting with the bishops, who all received a one-day training in February 2018. This has been critical in plugging the gap that exists in theological formation – a big obstacle to moving Laudato Sí forward. With this foundation set, many other very significant initiatives followed in individual departments, ranging from incorporation in the World Meeting of Families to the adoption of the annual Season of Creation across the whole church.

One decision that stands out is the bishops’ conference commitment to divest their financial resources from fossil fuels. Having understood the message of Laudato Sí and its call to “shift away from fossil fuels without delay” (#165), the Laudato Sí group, supported by the expertise of Trócaire which has led a national divestment campaign, proposed to the Finance and General Purposes Council that the bishops make a statement on fossil fuels. An expert presentation was made by Trócaire to the Finance Committee in May 2018 and a motion proposed that resources should be removed from fossil fuels. The motion was passed without objection and received the backing of the full Bishops’ Conference. The announcement was made in Christchurch Cathedral on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland.

The bishops’ decision to divest as part of their implementation of Laudato Sí is significant. In the words of Bishop William Crean, Chairman of Trócaire: “Our announcement, whilst modest in terms of financial resources, is more than just symbolic.  It is about joining the growing social movement, led by young people across the world, calling for the realignment of our financial policies to safeguard their future.  It makes good sense and it is the least that we can offer our future generations. Together with our brothers and sisters in the Church of Ireland, and with many Religious Congregations in Ireland that have already divested, we now call on all faith organisations at home and abroad to consider joining the global divestment movement.”

N.B.  The picture above shows climate justice prayer ribbons which were collected at World Meeting Of Families and taken to Katowice as part of the Climate Pilgrimage.

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