The Church and Mining: What is Happening to our Common Home?

May 30, 2019

By Scott Wright

We live in a world radiant with beauty and one that is also crying out for redemption. The entire Creation is filled with the beauty and colors of the Seasons of Creation, at the same time it is groaning under the impact of climate change: extreme weather events, devastating floods and severe droughts, rising sea levels and melting glaciers, disappearing habitats, and disappearing species of life.

But this drama is not confined to the climate alone. In recent decades transnational mining companies from North America, Europe, Australia and China have tripled their investments throughout the world, wreaking havoc on the environment and indigenous communities as well.

What is happening to our common home?

That’s the question that Pope Francis asked in his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, and it is a question that continues to resonate throughout the globe, as more and more local communities affected by climate change and mining raise a cry of protest against a global economy based on the extraction of fossil fuels and precious metals, wreaking havoc on the land, the air, the water, and the people who depend on them for sustenance.

It’s also the question that the churches and communities affected by mining are asking.

From September 1 – 4, fifty religious men and women and lay people from 18 different countries, who form part of the Church and Mining Network, met in Bogota, Colombia to share their experiences accompanying poor and indigenous communities negatively affected by mining. These foreign mining companies, which have divided and displaced local communities and destroyed the environment, have left little sign of “development” in their wake, but they are extracting a great deal of profit for themselves.

This year’s gathering came one year after the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace of the Vatican organized a meeting in Rome, and invited representatives of poor and indigenous communities from the Church and Mining Network in Latin America to share the cries of their communities with Pope Francis. In response, the Holy Father told them:

“You have gathered here to echo the cry of your families, your communities, who suffer as a result of the consequences, too often negative, of mining activities: a cry for lost land; a cry for the extraction of wealth from land that does not produce wealth for the local populations who remain poor; a cry of pain in reaction to violence, threats and corruption; a cry of indignation and for help for the violation of human rights; a cry of sadness and impotence for the contamination of the water, the air and the land.”

We can’t, in the name of money, destroy nature.

This year’s gathering comes just six months after the death of Berta Caceres, an indigenous activist from Honduras murdered in response to years of protesting hundreds of foreign mining concessions and dozens of mega-dams that threaten the lands and waters of indigenous peoples like her own.

Fr. Peter Hughes, a Columban missionary in Peru and former director of the Justice and Solidarity department of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference, participated in a prior gathering of the Church and Mining Network. What is at stake, he said, “is the defense of life.” “The bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, together with those of Canada and the United States, have agreed to take action and to speak as one voice to defend life.”

Viviana Vaca, from the Pastoral Commission for Indigenous Peoples in Argentina, and a participant in the last two Church and Mining conferences, captured the spirit of this year’s gathering as well: “As Christians, we are taking care of creation. This creation is everybody’s home, the one God gave us as a gift. God put it in our hands, not for us to do whatever we want, but to take care of it, and guarantee it for future generations, and so we can feel part of this cosmos. We are not the owners, we’re only a small part and we have to take care of it, but sometimes that’s the last thing we do.”

Rosa Del Valle, another participant in the Church and Mining conference, concurred: “Being conscious of the fact that it is from the land that we have water, air, and food, we know we could not exist without it. We are territory, we are nature, we are Mother Earth.”

Despite the risks involved, those gathered at the Church and Mining conference affirmed the strength that their faith gives them to continue to accompany vulnerable communities which are opposing mining projects: “We are aware that defending the Creation, within an economic system whose highest purpose is profit and money, is an action that involves risk and danger of death, but the gospel of Jesus encourages us, as does “Laudato Si’,” and the spirit of struggle of many communities affected by mining and other extractive activities.”

Churches and Mining is a Latin American network of Christian communities, of religious men and women brought together in an ecumenical spirit to confront the impacts of mining, to defend territories, and to care for Creation. The network enjoys the support of several bishops, the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM), the Justice and Solidarity Department of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM), and the Latin American Council of Churches. In the words of one of those bishops, Leonardo Steiner, Secretary General of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference: “We can’t, in the name of money, in the name of greed, destroy nature.”

[[Picture Caption: Fifty religious and lay persons from the Church and Mining Network gather in Bogota, Colombia, for their third general meeting. Scott Wright (USA) and Cesar Correa (Chile) participated on behalf of the Columbans]]

Declaration of the third meeting of the Churches and Mining Network

Read this report in Spanish, Portuguese and English here.

“A cry for the lands lost; a cry for the extraction of riches from the soil which paradoxically has not produced wealth for the local populations, who remain poor; a cry of pain in reaction to violence, threats and corruption; a cry of indignation and for help for the violations of human rights, blatantly or discreetly trampled.” (Pope Francis to the meeting of communities affected by mining, July 2015)
Within the framework of the World Day of Prayer for the Common House, we have gathered in Bogota, about 50 religious and laypersons, women and men from countries in America and Europe, members of the Churches and Mining Network, to hear the cries of Mother Earth, share experiences of resistance and alternatives to so-called “development” and to reflect on the challenges that we, as Christians, face in regard to the many problems suffered by communities affected by mining. We started our meeting with visits to the departments of Tolima (Ibagué and Cajamarca) and Cesar (Valledupar-Cerro Largo), where the companies Drummond and Anglo Gold Ashanti operate — two of the many areas in Colombian territory affected by opencast mining. Through observation and testimonies we found that the harmful effects of open-pit mining violate the rights of nature and therefore constitute a crime against humanity.
  • We are concerned about the increasing criminalization and murders of those defending the territories, as is the case with our sister Berta Caceres for whom we reclaim justice, and through it ask for a fairer world for women who play a leading role in defense of life but are always the first victims of extractivism. We are aware that defending the Creation, within a predatory system whose highest purpose is profit and money, is an action that involves risk and danger of death, but the gospel of Jesus encourages us, as does the encyclical “Laudato Si” and the spirit of struggle of many communities affected by mining and other extractive activities.
  • We urge local authorities elected by popular will to support initiatives in defense of life. We are pleased to note that the City Council of Cajamarca and the Mayor of Ibagué consider an ethical commitment with the citizenship the fact of accompanying initiatives in defense of the common house.
  • We call our churches to take an active commitment in defense of the common house as this is a constitutive element of being Christian. We alert the Church hierarchy on the cooptation mechanisms that companies and some governments are implementing. We see hope in the attitude of many bishops, priests, pastors and lay people who hear the cries of the victims in their territories and we celebrate their commitment to life.
  • We salute the Colombian people in their efforts to achieve peace and put an end to the long period of internal war that they suffered. Peace is the way to continue building a fairer, more equitable Colombia that is also more in harmony with Mother Nature.
From the ecumenical spirit that animates us, our Churches and Mining Network reaffirms its commitment to continue supporting small communities that are displaced and overthrown in their most basic rights. Experience shows us that nowhere in the world is mining an alternative for development, neither comprehensive nor sustainable for our peoples.
Bogotá, 4th of September 2016
  • Red Iglesias and Mining
  • Dario P. Giuliano Bossi, Comboni Missionaries, Justiça nos Trilhos network, Brazil
  • Claudia Andrea Huircan, Claretians from the province of San José del Sur, Argentina
  • Rodrigo de Castro Amédée Péret, Franciscans International, Brazil
  • Rosa del Valle Araoz de Machado, Sumai Kausay Collective, Catamarca-Argentina
  • Dom André de Witte, Bishop of Ruy Barbosa, Comição Pastoral da Terra – CNBB, Brazil
  • Birgit Weiler, Theologian from Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University, Peru
  • Monsignor Juan Carlos Barreto, Bishop of Quibdo, Colombia
  • Apolinar Flores Tococari, Centre for Ecology and Andean, Bolivia
  • Victor Manuel Hirsch, Vivat International, Argentina
  • Viviana del Carmen Vaca, National Team of Indigenous Pastoral -ENDEPA, Argentina
  • Stefan Reinhold, CIDSE, Belgium
  • Moema Marques De Miranda, Inter Franciscan Service of Justice, Peace and Ecology, Brazil
  • Fr. Nelson José Barrientos Chodiman, Diocese of Copiapo, Alto del Carmen, Chile
  • Igor Guilherme Pereira Bastos, Global Catholic Climate Movement, Brazil
  • Sandra del Carmen Ferrero, EDIPA, Sisters of Mercy, Argentina
  • Alessandro Gallazzi, Theologian, Advisor to the Pastoral de la Tierra, Brazil
  • Susanne Friess, Misereor, Germany
  • Patrícia Generoso Thomaz Guerra, Coletivo REAJA, Conceição do Mato Dentro, MG-Brasil
  • Maria Angely Robles Carvajal, Presbyterian Church, Chile
  • César Eduardo Correa Valenzuela, Columban Missionary Society, Chile
  • Fr. Henry Ramírez Soler cmf, Claretian Missionaries, Colombia
  • Carmen Amaya Alicia Rodriguez, Inter Ecclesial Commission of Justice and Peace, Colombia
  • Father Jesús Alberto Franco Giraldo, Inter Ecclesial Commission of Justice and Peace, Colombia
  • Milton Fernando López Ruiz, Fastenopfer, Colombia
  • Martha Inés Romero Medina, Pax Christi International, Colombia
  • Augusto César Padilla Ormeño, OCMAL (Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America), Chile
  • Alírio Caceres, AMERINDIA, Colombia
  • Mauricio Lopez, REPAM (Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network), Ecuador
  • P. Gregory Kennedy S.J. CLAR – CRC, Colombia
  • Milton Mejia Camargo Mariano, CLAI, Ecuador
  • Pedro Sanchez, SIGNIS LAC, Ecuador
  • Vidalina Morales Gamez, Association of social economic development, El Salvador
  • Scott Wright, Interfaith Working Group on the Extractive Industries, USA
  • Carlos Alarcon Novoa, Organization for Human Rights of the Archbishopric of Guatemala
  • Cesar Augusto Espinoza Muñoz, Claretian Missionaries, Honduras
  • Pedro Landa Palma, Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación – ERIC, Honduras
  • Lupo Canterac Troya, Red Regional Agua, Desarrollo y Democracia, Piura-Perú
  • Pablo Arturo Sanchez de Francesch, GRUFIDES, Peru
  • Jahncke Rodolfo Javier Benavente, Red MUQUI, Peru
  • Esther Dorothea Winkler, Fastenopher, Switzerland

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Related information:

Churches and Mining NetworkColombiaLaudato Si