Catholic Religious Leaders Address Ecological Problems

(Detroit, Michigan – August 25, 2003)  At a critical moment for the ecological future of the planet, more than 900 leaders of communities of Catholic women religious recently explored the potential they have to help chart a new shift in thinking and living on the earth.

Gathered at the annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in Detroit, the leaders studied the effects of the mass extinction of the diversity of life on the earth. Sister Nancy Schreck, OSF, an assembly keynote speaker, noted that this extinction calls for profound shifts in theology. “While Christians generally understand God’s will for salvation on earth to involve healing and wholeness for human beings, we must extend our understanding to include healing and wholeness for the rest of creation,” she stated. 

 This shift was echoed by the second keynote speaker, Dr. Brian Swimme, who voiced the need to stop thinking of the earth as “a collection of objects and to start thinking of it as a mutually indwelling communion of subjects.”

 Swimme also noted that women religious have the potential to be effective leaders in creating a new world view. “We have a deep belief and confidence in women religious. In contrast to the collapse of confidence in leadership in other segments of society, we know that your work is motivated by truth and love.”

 LCWR president Sister Mary Ann Zollmann, BVM, challenged the leaders to maximize the potential to create change that is inherent in religious life. “We have uncovered within ourselves the power most necessary for the creation, salvation and resurrection of our church, our world, and our earth. It is the power of relationship, of our sisterhood with all that is. This power is prophetic; it is the most radical act of dissent.”

 Assembly participants further explored the needs of the environment through workshops on permaculture with Sister Carol Costen, OP; ecology’s invitation to authentic humanness with Sister Lynn M. Levo, CSJ; leadership lessons from ecology with Peter McLoughlin; earth-friendly and economically sustainable renovation with Sister Janet Ryan, IHM and Danielle Conroyd; contemplation of the cosmos with Sister Mary Southard, CSJ; and the call of the Earth Charter with Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker. Participants had the opportunity to tour the campus restoration project of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Michigan, who have transformed their 280-acre campus using principles based on ecology, spirituality and justice.