One of our main duties as Catholics is to care for God’s creation, the natural world he made for us. It isn’t an optional dictate, or dependent on whether exploiting God’s creation creates jobs, tax revenues or corporate profits. Genesis 2:15 says, “Humans are commanded to care for God’s creation.”
That’s why we were so disturbed to see Formosa Plastics’ local representative Janile Parks’ (column “Walking the Walk, in Deeds and in Truth,” March 12) to make weak economic arguments for building one of the world’s biggest petrochemical complexes in St. James Civil Parish.
We struggle to live in a community near the proposed plant that’s already suffering from destroyed property values and poor health from exposure to industrial pollution in this corridor known as Cancer Alley. Our community is 90% Black, and Formosa Plastics would more than double our toxic air pollution just to create more plastic, or what Parks called “basic building blocks found in everyday products.”
Pope Francis has been very clear that we must stop exploiting the Earth’s resources just to create more products for our comfort and convenience. In fact, he’s specifically called for environmental justice for poor communities that have endured pollution and criticized our “throwaway” world that’s filling up with plastic pollution – all reasons we cite for opposing the Formosa Plastics project.
“St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” Pope Francis wrote in the opening paragraph of his landmark environmental encyclical “Laudato Si,” adding, “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”
Indeed, the sickness of industrial greed and systemic racism is in our soil, our water, our air and now our bodies. Our local friends and family members have been dying of cancer and respiratory disease.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came, we suffered and died disproportionately, perhaps because of the pollution we’ve been breathing for generations. Our local leaders must protect our right to life and dignity by preventing any further pollution that will certainly threaten us with death.
As Catholics, stewardship of the Earth cannot be reduced to an afterthought: rather, it is a requirement of our faith. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explicitly lists “Care for God’s Creation” as one of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching, the church’s official stance on how we are to act in regard to our community. Other principles call for protection of vulnerable communities like ours: “A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the last judgment and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.”
That’s not what’s happening in St. James Parish or other poor communities around the world subjected to pollution that corporations profit from. In fact, the environmental racism behind the Formosa Plastics project recently led our secular brothers and sisters at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to oppose this project as a human rights violation.
As Catholics who keep the faith, we know our God won’t forsake us and let this project proceed. We know God has little patience for the representative of a multinational corporation using a local church publication to try to fool a community that has toiled here since our ancestors were enslaved people, some of them seemingly buried in the very soil where Formosa Plastics wants to build its plant.
Local Catholic leaders have stood with our group, RISE St. James, at the project site to signal their support for our campaign. Bishop Michael G. Duca and Father Vincent Dufresne participated in our All-Saints Day service at the site, blessing our buried dead and ailing community. We know the Scriptures support our cause and we urge all Catholics to stand with us in the struggle.
“Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries,” reads James 5:1. “Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days.”
In other words, Formosa Plastics, we won’t let you poison our community over plastic and profits.
Lavigne is the president of RISE St. James.
Read the article in The Catholic Commentator