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Filipino priest urged Church leaders to advance environmental protection with ‘activism and protest’  

A Catholic priest has urged Church leaders in the Philippines to take a frontline position in environmental activism and play a more active, visible role in ecological campaigns.

Fr. Manuel Vicente Catral, the incoming Pastoral Director of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao, said that while it is proactive for bishops to divest from financial institutions engaged in destructive industries, the Church should also take the roles that require both activism and protest.

“Protecting the environment necessitates activism and protest,” the priest said, noting that Pope Francis highlighted grassroots activism and personal responsibility in catalyzing broader societal changes to address environmental challenges in the Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum.

“[Pope Francis] acknowledges the significant contribution of those standing up against the destruction of the environment,” he said. 

The priest made the statement after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) announced that its Plenary Assembly approved major resolutions aimed at strengthening campaigns for ‘integral ecology’.

On June 9, the bishops upheld their commitment to divest from financial institutions engaged in environmentally destructive businesses, including extractive mining and industries that are considered anti-life by 2025. 

CBCP President Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said the Plenary Assembly also renewed its earlier commitment to refuse donations from individuals and companies engaged in activities harmful to the environment. 

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David also announced that the bishops agreed to elevate the “Ecology Desk” to the “Integral Ecology Ministry” across all ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the country.

In its 2019 Pastoral Letter on Ecology, the CBCP encouraged dioceses to create an ecology desk, which can be established under the Diocesan Social Action Ministry. 

However, as of 2023, Caritas Philippines reported that only 29 of the 68 ecology desks in 85 Catholic dioceses across the country are actively operating with a clear ecology program.

Fr. Catral said that an integral ecology ministry should combine environmental activism with tangible support for the poor, who are most affected by unfair economic practices that damage the environment, destroy livelihoods, and disrupt families.

“Activism should include the poor in the equation, and if an ecology ministry is to be established, what form should it take? It shouldn’t just involve planting trees or setting up solar panels,” he said. 

The priest, who led the anti-black sand mining campaign in the northern Philippines, applauded the bishops’ heightened awareness of the climate emergency. 

He also echoed Bishop David’s call for synodality that prioritizes ecology across Christian denominations and among all people of goodwill.

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