Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 23, 2009
Priest takes the ecological challenge
Fr. Sean McDonagh
BY DENNIS SADOWSKI
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
ALEXANDRIA, VA. — In the 40 years he has worked for justice, Columban Father Sean McDonagh has never seen a challenge like the one facing the earth today.
He believes the world is headed to a global disaster that may prove impossible to reverse if it fails to act soon.
It’s all the result of environmental degradation, the excessive use of fossil fuels, and the drive for short-term profits.
“We are not the last generation to live on this planet,” he said in an interview. “We’re living as if we are.”
Often blunt and to the point, McDonagh travels the world as the justice and peace coordinator for the Columbans.
The 64-year-old former missionary priest in the Philippines is a global citizen, spreading a green Gospel message.
ECOLOGY AT THE HEART
“Ecology should be at the heart of pastoral ministry, not on the periphery,” he said.
“And it flows exactly from our understanding of a God who creates and continues to create, a God who reveals himself in the face of Jesus Christ as part of the natural world and a God who we experience in the natural world through the sacramental realities.”
It was in the Philippines where a young McDonagh had what he considers his great awakening nearly 30 years ago.
Two years after he was ordained and sent to the Philippines, the country’s president, Ferdinand Marcos, declared martial law and became the de facto dictator of the country.
McDonagh and his fellow Columban missionaries quickly turned to documenting human rights abuses as government forces attacked people, forcing people from land they had inhabited for generations.
“So many of the things you were doing as a Catholic, backed by the social teaching of the Church, now became actually illegal,” he recalled.
Eventually, McDonagh found his way to the southern Mindanao rain forest where the indigenous T’boli live. It was there in 1980 that he found his life’s work.
He saw the devastation left by logging companies whose only interest was harvesting hardwoods of the rain forest. Their practice of clear-cutting all vegetation to get at the valuable trees stripped the T’boli of a vital resource.
McDonagh’s studies led him to see that the consequences of clear-cutting extended far beyond the rain forest.
Without trees to capture the monsoon rains, water would rush over the barren land, flooding villages and croplands. The sediment-carrying torrents made their way to the mangrove forests along the shore, depositing silt which smothered the multitude of plant life.
What sediment the mangrove forests failed to stop continued to the sea where it settled on the ocean floor, causing the brightly coloured coral reefs to become bleached as they lost their source of nutrients.
With the coral dying, the rich sea life departed, leaving behind vast dead zones.
During his presentations McDonagh often returns to words in Chapter 10, Verse 10, of the Gospel of John: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
But he told CNS that that promise of Christ is not possible on a “sick planet.”
“So taking seriously that Gospel means we take seriously the well-being of the planet.”