GUWAHATI, 15 Sep: The Catholic bishops of Northeast India, during a regional pastoral conference held here in Assam from 12-15 September, pledged to fight climate change in the Northeast.
Introducing the theme of the conference, ‘Climate change in Northeast India and care for god’s creation’, North East India Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC) secretary-general and Kohima diocese bishop James Thoppil said, “One part of the country is going through severe drought and other part experiencing flood. This is happening because of our greed and the kinds of choices we have made.”
Reminding the participants of the grim reality of climate change in the world – the Northeast region in particular – NEIRBC president John Moolachira, who is also the archbishop of Guwahati, said: “As a young priest, I used to travel through dense forests to reach some of our centres. Now, after 35-40 years, when I travel through the same roads, there is no trace of a forest. Settlements have sprung up. Timber is cut off and sold outside the region by unscrupulous elements with either the connivance or negligence of government machinery.”
“As a result of this,” he said, “the hills and plains have become barren and rivulets dried up, rains have become either too much or too little.”
“When it rains, the fertile soils are washed away due to flood; garbage is everywhere, and life in towns is unhygienic. Pollutants in the cities and towns flow freely into our rivers and waterways; pesticides and fertilisers are used widely, and the water in the rivers has become dangerous for use for man, birds, fish and animals,” Moolachira said.
Bombay archdiocese auxiliary bishop Allwyn D’Silva exhorted the participants to “enliven the faith through the restoration of ecological relationships.”
“We can see and are living through a time of increasing crisis of humanity. The reality of Northeast India is proof of the dangerous climate change reality in the country. We can ill afford to disregard this ecological crisis and climate change,” D’Silva said.
Thirteen bishops attended the four-day conference, which also included presentation of scientific papers, panel discussions, group discussions, and reporting on topics pertinent to the theme of the conference.
Gauhati University Professor Abani Kumar Bhagabati presented a paper on the environmental issues and challenges in Northeast India, and Shillong-based Professor Martin Luther Christian University’s agricultural scientist Vincent T Darlong spoke on “pathways to conservation and caring for Mother Earth.”
Guwahati-based National Institute of Rural Development Assistant Professor Dr Mukesh K Srivastava dwelt on soil and water conservation in the NE region, and Dr Ujjal Deka Baruah from Cotton University’s geography department highlighted the phenomenon of recurring floods and landslides in the region, their causes, and preventive measures.
Prof Lukose PJ from Assam Don Bosco University, Guwahati, presented “a vision for the church to tackle the climate crisis in the region.”
To highlight the role and responsibility of the churches to address the concerns arising from climate change, papers were presented by environmentalists from the region.
Father Robert Athickal from the Society of Jesus’ Tarumitra Bio-reserve highlighted “the significance of Laudato Si for Northeast India and a need for an eco-spirituality for our times.”
Father Andew Xavier, green promoter of the Dimapur Salesian province, presented “practical tips for early habit formation in green living.”
Climate change and the response from the perspective of pastoral apostolate, educational apostolate, social apostolate, and the perspective of indigenous communities were also discussed during the meet.
“We hope we take with us what we have learned from this important conference that has relevance not just for Northeast India but for the whole world,” said Bishop John Thomas of the Itanagar diocese.
Quoting Pope Francis, he said, “As we pledge to protect god’s creation, let us be protectors of god’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
The four-day annual conference, held after a gap of two years due to the pandemic, was attended by over 150 participants from all 15 dioceses of the Northeast.