One of the most beautiful and balanced expressions of the vital importance a river and its watershed can have in the history and life of the people who live within it, is the 2001 Catholic Bishop’s Pastoral Letter on the Columbia River Watershed.
This project has had deep significance for our work around the American River Parkway and the watershed birthing it.
I have excerpted the introduction and the completed document can be read at http://www.columbiariver.org/index1.html
The Columbia River Watershed:
Caring for Creation and the Common Good
An International Pastoral Letter by the Catholic Bishops of the Region
“God saw all that had been made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
“We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well-being of future generations … delicate ecological balances are upset by the uncontrolled destruction of animal and plant life or by a reckless exploitation of natural resources. It should be pointed out that all of this, even if carried out in the name of progress and well-being, is ultimately to humankind's disadvantage.... An education in ecological responsibility is urgent: responsibility for oneself, for others, and for the earth.”
--Pope John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, 1990
“We must expand our understanding of the moral responsibility of citizens to serve the common good…”
--The Catholic Bishops of the United States, Economic Justice for All, 1986
“The fundamental relation between humanity and nature is one of caring for creation.”
--The Catholic Bishops of the United States, Renewing the Earth, 1991
“We need to reexamine the ways we think and act, to affirm and support what we are presently doing that is environmentally responsible and to critique and challenge what is irresponsible and unsustainable.”
--The Catholic Bishops of Alberta, Canada, Celebrate Life: Care for Creation, 1998
(c) 2000 Columbia River Pastoral Letter Project. Permission is granted to quote from this document, with appropriate attribution, for journalistic, educational, or discussion purposes.
Caring for Creation, Community and the Columbia
The Columbia River Watershed stands as one of the most beautiful places on God's earth. Its mountains and valleys, forests and meadows, rivers and plains reflect the presence of their Creator. Its farms and fishing boats, rural communities and cities, railroads, ports and industries reveal the varied ways in which peoples of the region have worked with earth's beauty and bounty to derive their livelihood from the land and water.
The core of the 259,000 square miles of the Columbia Watershed is the 1,200 miles of the great river known as the Columbia. It begins in British Columbia in Canada, is fed in the U.S. by tributaries in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, and flows to the Pacific Ocean. This magnificent network of rivers -- the region's lifeblood -- is an extensive ecosystem that transcends national, state and provincial borders.
We, the Catholic bishops in the international watershed region of the United States and Canada, write this pastoral letter because we have become concerned about regional economic and ecological conditions and the conflicts over them in the watershed. We address this letter to our Catholic community and to all people of good will. We hope that we might work together to develop and implement an integrated spiritual, social and ecological vision for our watershed home, a vision that promotes justice for people and stewardship of creation.
We recognize the great contributions that our ancestors made to this region. The original native inhabitants and the early ranchers, farmers, fishers and loggers struggled against almost insurmountable odds to carve out a home in this sometimes inhospitable land. We recognize that damage to the watershed may have been caused by financial need and lack of knowledge more than by a lack of appreciation for the environment.
Our pastoral letter is not meant to criticize people's efforts to provide a suitable living for their family. We are hopeful that those involved in industry are, by and large, also concerned about the environment.
At the same time, we commend those who have recognized and responded to the environmental challenges that result from commercial and industrial enterprises. It is important for those with deeper concerns about the environment to recognize that farmers, ranchers and other landowners and workers are not their enemies. It is equally important that the latter groups seek to better understand environmental concerns. Protection of the land is a common cause promoted more effectively through active cooperation than through contentious wrangling.
We call for a thorough, humble and introspective evaluation that seeks to eliminate both economic greed that fails to respect the environment, and ecological elitism that lacks a proper regard for the legitimate rights and property of others.
The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good focuses particularly on our common responsibilities for our region. In this pastoral letter we will explore biblical and Catholic Church teachings about stewardship; the need to respect nature; and the need to recognize and promote the common good. These themes are consistent with a Christian belief that the earth is a creation of God intended to serve the needs of all creation.