Calgary faith leaders are united in believing that humans have a sacred connection to the earth.

Calgary faith leaders are united in believing that humans have a sacred connection to the earth.

February 3, 2014

The wide spectrum of environmental concerns issue "a haunting, compelling cry . . . arising in our times from every corner of the earth," says Calgary Bishop Fred Henry.

Environmental pollution, socio-economic problems caused by the loss of deforestation and soil erosion, and a host of issues linked to climate change, including catastrophic weather events, are all powerful examples of that cry, Henry said at a gathering of interfaith leaders Jan. 22.

With poll after poll showing "that people are way ahead of governments on the issue of ecology," Henry said it's time Roman Catholics, the single largest religious group in Canada, recognized their faith community as an antidote to the problems caused by individualism.

"We all can do lots personally, but we can also do a lot 'corporately' [as part of] the body of Christ," said Henry.

People of faith, who understand the link between environmental causes and social justice, are called to help political, business and social leaders put those fears into perspective.

"We have to act . . . [even when it] challenges all of us to break habits that are powerful and entrenched," said Henry.

Henry's remarks set the stage for five religious leaders to talk about the role of religion in environmental protection.

Representatives of Calgary faiths spoke in a panel session on Green Faith Jan. 22.


Representatives of Calgary faiths spoke in a panel session on Green Faith Jan. 22.

The event was organized by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI) Calgary, with support from the Religious Studies and Faith and Spirituality Centre of the University of Calgary and the Inter-Faith Network of Calgary.

Alvin Manitopyes, a full-blooded indigenous man who works as a consultant with the Public Health Agency of Canada, donned a traditional headdress to speak about indigenous beliefs that people have a sacred connection to the earth.

Manitopyes said indigenous people living in various parts of the world prophesy a time when an indigenous understanding of the need to protect and respect nature will be sought by others.

Many people in his community believe that time is at hand, he added.


Imam Fayaz Tilly, Muslim chaplain with two Calgary universities and Alberta Health Services, talked about Islam's belief "that the world's resources should be used but never abused."

Tilly noted water and forest conservation as two focus areas. While devout Muslims perform pre-prayer ablution (ritual washing) five times a day, they are discouraged from wasting water, even for ablution.

Tilly's time at a New York seminary, where no plastic was allowed into the building, also included planting two trees for every year of his studies. A fundamental principle of Islam requires followers to "take care of mother earth," he added.

Rabbi Yisroel Miller, leader of an Orthodox synagogue in Calgary, took the discussion in a different direction.

The rabbi acknowledged that the Jewish people thank God for all creation – and care about creation as a gift from God.

Bishop Fred Henry

Bishop Fred Henry

But all people of faith have "noble choices" to make, Miller said. Those choices require sober-second-thought in making "righteous" decisions about the environment.

Using electric cars as an example, he reminded people that the decision to buy an energy-efficient vehicle is a personal choice. But government policies that force that kind of choice upon a society can negatively impact the poor.


Christianity embraces environmental teaching, said the Very Rev. Dr. Bill Phipps.

A former moderator of the United Church of Canada and co-founder and chair of Faith and the Common Good, Phipps called on people of faith to understand the interconnectedness of ecology and economy.

Phipps urged governments to do more to tackle climate change. Given its economic realities, Calgary is a good place to begin that discussion.

Sensei James Martin, leader of the Calgary Buddhist Temple, said his faith calls people to "look at the world with a deep sense of gratitude."

Buddhism also teaches its followers to value the fundamental inter-connectedness of creation and to avoid wasting resources. "More is not always better. In fact, it's usually the opposite," warned the sensei.