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‘Why are we destroying God’s Creation?’

PC(USA) climate justice webinar lifts voices of women

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo

LOUISVILLE — The way the Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo sees it, the United States has a debt to pay when it comes to climate change.

As a major generator of carbon emissions, “we need to be courageous and take drastic measures,” said Astudillo, an eco-theologian and Presbyterian pastor who is advocating for a cultural shift.

“The so-called American dream in reality is a nightmare for the rest of the world,” said Astudillo, a Venezuelan-American. “We need to reconsider our value of freedom; it’s not freedom to have and want everything that we want — at any time we want it — just because we have financial power to do so. But it’s really freedom to love, freedom to know the world, to love the world and to be in connection, in relationship with our sisters and brothers around the world and in our own communities.”

Astudillo was one of three women featured during a webinar put on by the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations to coincide with the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. CSW66, which wraps up this week, is focusing on the environment and gender equality this year.

Astudillo, part of GreenFaith and Red Latina, was joined by the Rev. Mamisoa Rakotomalala of Madagascar and Yolanda Zurita of Peru in answering questions from moderator Jessica Maudlin of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP).

Early on, Maudlin asked Astudillo for a definition of ecotheology. Astudillo replied that it’s about understanding “that God, as Creator, is calling God’s people … to protect the natural world, to protect vulnerable communities.” It probes questions, such as “Why are we destroying God’s Creation?” and “If we are made in God’s image, what image of God are we reflecting?”

Zurita, a social worker in La Oroya, Peru, added that “the Lord calls us through our brothers and sisters groaning in pain.”

In La Oroya, which is contaminated by mining-related toxins and pollution, Zurita and others have experienced health problems, such as seizures, and lead has accumulated in children’s bodies. Zurita said her parents and grandparents “suffered the impact of the work of the smelting company” and noted that ash covered the ground. “This was horrible pressure on Mother Nature that God gave us to be stewards of it and to take care of it for future generations,” she said.

The Rev. Mamisoa Rakotomalala

Rakotomalala, an ordained minister of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), talked about how Madagascar has a host of problems, from high temperatures and inconsistent rainfall, to cyclones and COVID-19, to famine and malnutrition.

She also talked about the plight of women. For example, “in Madagascar early-arranged marriages are part of the norms, the social norms,” she said. Also, “some families are so desperate … they are selling their daughters because of hunger.”

“Many children are dropping out of school to work or forage to get food and gender violence has increased. So, climate change impacts the household, brings dysfunction in the family, and women and girls are at the intersection” of these oppressive forces, she said.

Toward the end of the webinar, Maudlin asked about how to inspire people of faith, including church members, to take action.

Rakotomalala talked about “raising more awareness and accountability” and also lifting up each other’s voices.

“We tend to keep the mic for ourselves, but passing the mic to those who are silent,” especially women and girls and indigenous people, is important, she said.

She noted that FJKM has been involved in multiple strategies to improve life in Madagascar, including training seminarians, pastors and volunteers to plant trees and grow fruits. It has partnered with PC(USA) on missionary work through World Mission.

Yolanda Zurita (Screenshot)

Zurita has been involved in recovery of vegetation through the application of ancestral technologies, tree planting and water harvesting. Her area also has benefited from the support of Red Uniendo Manos Peru, the local Joining Hands network.

She spoke about the importance of solidarity and not overlooking the farmer who says that in the past, “the sky would tell me there would be a snowfall. A freeze is coming in, and I would be able to take care of my crops. But the sky no longer tells me what I need to do.”

The interconnectedness of life was a thread throughout the discussion. Astudillo talked about the need to know the impact of one’s personal lifestyle on climate and the environment, from food choices to transportation to energy use.

It’s also important “to know how our own neighborhood, our own bioregions, are being affected by climate change and from there, connecting with the global story,” she said.

Watch the webinar by clicking here.

The Presbyterian Ministry at the UN and the Presbyterian Hunger Program are part of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The planning team for this webinar also included some members of a Presbyterian delegation taking part in #CSW66.

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