From Kenya to Lima: “Serve God by Conserving Nature”

shaba kenya bird wikicommons

Many gentle voices calling for faithful stewardship of Earth go unnoticed by the media. Overcome by other events in the rushing, babbling stream of life, nevertheless some voices whisper their way, finally, to a quiet green shore. One Catholic Bishop in Africa offered a beautiful message not long ago and, taking root in the fertile shore of Lima, Peru, his voice has found firm support helping him to reach sympathetic hearts and minds.

Joining the many voices in a clear, concerted call for climate action, many Catholic Bishops have energetically entered the fray in the war on fossil fuels. In a historical move, an international assembly of Catholic Bishops issued a letter to the U.N. Climate Talks in Lima last week. Several statements in this letter touched my heart, as the bishops seek to relieve the suffering of the poor and the poorer nations:

“Humankind on the Planet Earth is ordained to live in equity, justice and dignity, peace and harmony in the midst of the order of Creation. Humankind is ordered to treat respectfully Creation, which has a value in itself. We Catholic Bishops recognize the atmosphere, rainforests, oceans and agricultural land as common good that require our care.”

“…We recognize that in line with truly democratic principles the poor and the poorer nations, who are many and are more affected by climate change impacts, are also agents in the development of nations and human life on earth. They also give us a voice and a sense of hope in our times as we face crises such as climate change. We hope their gentle, meaningful and active participation will encourage decision makers to develop more mixed systems instead of “one size fits all” modern technological-industrial approaches.”

A Gentle Voice Calls From Kenya

Here, the gentle voice of Bishop Alfred Rotich, speaking in October at Tangaza University College in Nairobi, Kenya, offers us some beautiful words of hope, as the Bishops’ letter suggests. Gathering at the second Interfaith National Environment Day of Kenya, Bishop Rotich joined an inspiring assembly of diverse local faith leaders to express interfaith solidarity by planting trees together.

“Planting trees means planting seeds of contemplation, seeds of how to relate with ourselves and other people. We need  forests to invite other people [to] come from east and west, south and north to see our animals inside there,” said retired Bishop Rotich of the Military Ordinariate, referring to the economic opportunities of the new eco-tourism trade in Kenya.

Noting that the stature of trees provides a good example, Bishop Rotich said, “trees help build the character of human beings.” He also points out, “When you are in solitude under a tree where there is serenity there — you find geniuses, discoveries. The first discovery you have is that you got two enemies — anger and lust in us. The serene environment helps you walk out of this,” said the enlightened bishop.

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Environmental Conservation Requires Unity of Purpose

The theme of the Kenya Interfaith National Environment Day this year was “Faith commitments towards a living planet.” Speaking at the same function, Fr Charles Odira Kwanya, Chairman of the Kenya Interfaith Network on Environmental Action (KINEA), said environmental conservation is a challenge facing everyone in the world and therefore requires unity of purpose.

Father Odira is also the National Executive Secretary of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops. Speaking earlier to the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA), he noted that the environment is an important issue to various faith groups because “the doctrines and the teachings of the Bible, Quran among others all ascribe to God as a creator and a redeemer therefore making environment a unifying factor.”

More Tree Cover is Desperately Needed in Kenya

According to the World Rainforest Movement, Kenya’s forests are rapidly declining by about 12,000 hectare per year, due to pressure from increased population, fuel wood, building material and other land uses. Kenya’s economy is based on natural resources, putting a huge strain on the dwindling forests. Most of Kenya’s land is arid and semi-arid, and more tree cover is desperately needed.

The disappearing forest cover has had a severe effect on climate, wildlife, water supply, and human population everywhere in the country, but perhaps most on Kenya’s Sacred Kaya Forest dwellers.

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Not only supporting tree and plant species, the beautiful and famous forests of Kenya are home to a wide range of wildlife. From the huge elephant, down to the rare chameleon, the forest habitat supports many of God’s more elusive creatures. Families of monkeys, flocks of birds, migrating butterflies, the mysterious leopard, and much more resides in Kenya’s forests.

Just as significantly, several of the forests of Kenya are considered “water towers.” The highland forests of Mount Kenya and the Mau forests conserve the nation’s water supply by absorbing, storing and gradually releasing rain water. Covering an area of over 273,000 hectares, the Mau forest complex is the largest water catchment area in Kenya, and many rivers originate from there, including the Ewaso Ng’iro, Sondu, Mara, and Njoro Rivers.

However, with the forests rapidly declining, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) says that Kenya requires Kshs 7.6 billion annually to purchase 384 million seedlings in order to meet the United Nations’ requirement of a 10 percent forest cover by the year 2030.

Tree Planting is a Source of Harmony Between Man and Nature

Throughout the country, similar efforts as the Kenya Interfaith National Environment Day are bringing people together to plant more trees. As Bishop Rotich says, “When we plant trees we are building schools of peace, schools of change of attitude, and schools of discovery.” Continuing, he says, “Tree planting is a source of harmony between human race and nature.”

With his gentle voice and inspiring message, Bishop Alfred Rotich speaks to the crux of the issue, sowing seeds of consciousness in the rich soil alongside the babbling brook of time: “Society needs to change attitude in handling the environment, and to ensure that they work towards conserving nature,” he says, both as reminder and encouragement. “Conserving nature is a way of serving God.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one praying that they heard him in Lima.

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(Image note and source: All images are of Kenya, from wikicommons)

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.