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Sr. Veronica Brand, Sr. Clare McBrien and Sr. Virginia Dorgan from the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary represented the Network for Peace Group at the ‘Indigenous Women and Climate Change’ forum at the United Nations during Earth Week. Photo: Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

 

In the winter of 2014 the Network for Peace through Dialogue, a New York City based non-profit, organized by two Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM) sisters, initiated a project called Our Common Ground. The goal of the program is to raise our own and others awareness about the relationship of people and Earth. The need for this has become evident through climate change, depletion of natural resources and the extinction of species. The effects on people living in vulnerable areas of our country, and around the world are particularly harsh.

As part of this project Sr. Clare McBrien a RSHM sister who lives in the Appalachian area of Virginia in the United States was invited to spend Earth Week in the urban area of New York. She calls herself a student of Earth, and lives a spirituality connected to it. Some years ago, she began her studies at Genesis Farm, where she became intimately imbued with the work of Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme and Miriam MacGillis. Her knowledge deepened as she cultivated the grounds around her house in Virginia, and became better acquainted with the Earth community around her.

A highlight of her time in New York City was spending Earth Day at the United Nations so that the local environs became global. There, with the help of the RSHM – NGO delegate Sr. Veronica Brand, the Network for Peace group attended a forum titled “Indigenous Women and Climate Change.” We heard stories from Nicaragua, Kenya, Canada and Nepal (this was just a day before their devastating earthquakes). We heard stories of deforestation, mountain top removal, polluted ground water, and oil extracted from Canadian tar sands at great cost to the land, water and people of those areas. Projected pipelines would bring this oil through the U.S. to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We also heard of the indigenous people’s love for, and connection to their native lands.

Other activities during the week included visits to gardens and land preservation projects.

With the Network group, Sr. Clare visited a community garden in Harlem. Here Frances Amando, a long-time participant in the Network, and a Harlem resident, grows herbs and vegetables on a raised bed plot. This is one of 52 community gardens saved by actress Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project in 1999 when the city was going to auction them off for development.

One day we travelled to Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center, Ossining, New York State, 30 miles from NYC. The Dominican nuns at Mariandale are developing a master plan for the future of the retreat center now that there are fewer nuns residing there. They are exploring how to put the land into a land trust so that it will not be developed for commercial use.

A Land Committee has arranged for a Native American, a shaman, to walk the land and listen to what it has to tell them. They believe that indigenous people retain an ability to communicate with the natural world in ways that most of us have lost. In addition they are setting up ways to involve the local community in the planning, and are developing practices of organic gardening, permaculture and housing hives of bees.

Morningside Gardens is the name of a housing corporation with 980 apartment units in Harlem.
Sarah Eggleston and Joan Levine who are deeply involved in this housing community, hosted a meeting for our group there. It is part of a New York City pilot program to collect organics for composting from residences. Residents can bring all their food waste to collection bins, including meat and dairy, where it is broken down through an anaerobic process different from the one usually associated with composting. In addition to this they are working with the housing board to “Green” the grounds of his very large housing complex.

The story, including a summary of two Living Room Dialogues with Sr. Clare, continues at http://networkforpeace.com/.

Special Report by Sr. Virginia Dorgan from the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary based in New York, United States.