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Where faith, ecology, global economy intersect
NewsNotes, July-August 2009

Beginning in March 2009, Maryknoll missioners and affiliates have met in small groups to reflect on the crossroads of their faith, the ecological state of the world and the global economic system. Some of the important values and experiences surfaced in these reflections follow. The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns will incorporate this wisdom as we continue to work on the root causes of global ecological and socio-economic crises faced by the world community.

“Greater, bigger, faster, better, cheaper, more efficient! More! More! More!” If there were a more appropriate mantra for the world as it is today it would be “Grow, grow, grow!” But in the 35 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where Maryknoll missioners live and work, it is this rallying cry for growth that lies at the root of the global ecological and socioeconomic crises the world faces today.

In responding to these attitudes and their role in global crises, it is most important to understand that Earth has limits. Missioners and affiliates are extremely familiar with this understanding. They have witnessed first hand resource depletion, species extinction, the erosion of soil, melting of icecaps and serious changes in climate patterns in countries where they have lived, worked and visited.

Missioners also point out that it is critically important to understand and embrace the notion that all things are interconnected. This awareness helps people to become more mindful of the impact of their choices. Maryknollers have always had a sense of this interconnection – for years missioners have told stories of the human misery brought on by economic policies that serve to make a few extremely rich while a growing number of people slip further into dire poverty. Oligopolies, conglomerates and business interests such as mining companies, water bottling companies, consolidated food industries, etc. take control of water, land, and forests and leave pollution, contamination and destroy ecosystems and communities in their wake. One small group in Lima, Peru, comments, “The poorer countries are being robbed of their resources and are becoming the dumping grounds of the rich.”

Yet, in the U.S. and increasingly in urban societies around the world, disconnection is the norm as people are increasingly removed from having any role in producing what they consume. For most U.S. citizens, much of the food, clothing, and tools they use daily are produced in another country. The danger is that people begin to believe that their purpose is to consume. This was tragically amplified by President Bush encouraging the U.S. public to shop in the wake of the terrible events of September 2001. A consumer identity brings with it a certain sense of spiritual emptiness. Shopping, buying and consuming replace the notion that humans are co-creators with God – that they act with God in producing that which is needed to support and sustain life.

In reflecting on this reality, Maryknollers around the world emphasize simplicity, sufficiency, and frugality, as well as the notion that one should live within one’s means – to “live simply so that others may simply live.” Some recall that during World War II U.S. citizens were encouraged to live simply, so they saved, reused, repaired, remodeled and when they made something new they built it to last. People were proud of their contribution to the greater society; and in going without, they took stock of what aspects of their lives they truly valued.

In traveling to other countries and living within other cultures, Maryknollers are impacted and transformed by the life stories and experiences they share. Many deeply embrace the understanding that living well is not a bi-product of wealth accumulation; rather it is about finding peace and harmony with the rest of creation, always trusting that God will provide.

Maryknollers stress the need for humility. Both humans and the economic system they operate under must fit within Earth’s limits. Currently the human relationship with the natural world is lopsided and bringing the economic system into right relationship is a key starting point to balancing this relationship. This entails building an economic system that recognizes the dignity and rights of humans, communities, species and Earth itself.

A new rallying cry for many missioners and affiliates could well be: “Simpler, smaller, slower. Share more, love Earth, de-grow. Less! Less! Less!”

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