Portland Archbishop Urges Environmental Discussionby Shane Powell, The Daily Astorian
Capital Press - July 26, 2002
Pastoral letter rare for church
John Vlazny, the 10th Archbishop of Portland, still recalls a key tradition of St. Patrick's Day in his hometown, Chicago - pouring dye into the river to turn it green.
So, he explained, "it was little awkward when I arrived here in 1997 and learned what my predecessor and other bishops were up to."
At the time, diocese leaders in the Northwest were embarking on a novel "green" project.
But they weren't pouring anything into the local rivers; instead they were hoping to remove some of the stain that had already blemished them.
As Vlazny settled into Oregon and his 35th year of priesthood, he helped advance their project - a pastoral letter published February 2001 which offers a faith perspective on the Northwest's' environment.
At a recent Columbia Forum, Vlazny shared the key elements, visions, several objections and some of his won thoughts on the letter, "The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good."
Rather than criticize those who have lived off the watershed's resources, it opts to promote mutual understanding for the future. And its encouragement is a God-centered sacramental view.
Accordingly, with a mix of humor and persuasion, Vlazny called the world's current ecological crisis "a moral issue" and stressed a continuing need for stewardship, responsibility and - perhaps most notably - an acknowledgement of unity and "common good."
"Caring for God's creations is at the heart of the Catholic tradition," he said. "That includes not only our relationship with people but also the planet and its many other creatures."
He pointed out that in the book of Genesis, the human race is identified as earth's dominant creature.
"But the definition of dominion is to treat things the way God would," he said, "which doesn't mean just doing whatever the heck you want to.
"Safeguarding creation requires us to live within it, rather than living like we were managing it from the outside," he added.
Describing motivation for the letter's inception, Vlazny outlined several themes echoed throughout its final 18 pages.
"This requires all of us to enter into a process of conversion and change," Vlazny said.
He added that America's obsession to consume is the point where stewardship falls short.
"there's a danger in being rich, whether it's in resources, talent, whatever ... we start thinking 'they're mine.'"
It's evidenced by people's choice of shopping for recreation, he said, as well as in the statistics: "Industrialized countries of the world make up only one-fifth of the world's population but consume two-thirds of the world's resources and produce 75 percent of the pollution and waste.
"What does that say about us as a society?" Vlazny said. "It's important to remember that with every privilege comes a responsibility."
That's where the "vision" section of the pastoral letter comes in, he later explained.
Acknowledging a common critical retort - that our region and its economy would perish if the goal was to return to the way it was 300 years ago - Vlazny referred to the letter's concepts of clean land, clear water and pure air. The goal is to get there through accountable development and careful use.
"In the vision, the peoples of the region are conscious of their stewardship responsibilities," the letter states.
"Our pastoral letter is not meant to criticize people's efforts to provide a suitable living for their family. We are hopeful that those involved in industry are, by and large, also concerned about the environment."
The letter itself is the result of more than three years of meetings with citizens and business owners throughout the Columbia River watershed, including a 1999 session in Astoria.
It is also one of only a few such letters issued by the church.
In the past two decades, bishops have published letters on a variety of issues, including same-sex marriages, nuclear weapons, and specific to Oregon, the "death with dignity act" - but until last year, none on the environment.
"The church is nonpartisan, but has a responsibility to offer itself to the public realm," Vlazny said. "We do believe we have a perspective to offer ant that a position of faith might help."
The complete text of the pastoral letter online at www.columbiariver.org
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