A Matou Mahi

Mercy in Action

Hearing the cry of the earth

New Zealand and Pacific MIRP groups hear the cry of the earth

Hearing the cry of the Earth has emerged as a priority for several groups in New Zealand and the Pacific involved in the Mercy International Reflection Process (MIRP), a worldwide process of reflection and action organised by the Mercy International Association during the 2016 Year of Mercy.

Around 20 groups spent 2016 working through the four stages of the reflection process, choosing and exploring a topic which all regard as important, drawing wisdom from relevant scriptural and religious sources, and identifying a plan of action for members of the group to pursue. A key focus for several of these groups has been to limit the use of non-recyclable plastics.

In Samoa, a group of 12 staff of St Joan of Arc School in Leulumoega chose to use environmentally friendly resources in everyday living. “Our first step was to reduce our dependence on tin foil and plastic for wrapping food,” said Sister of Mercy Malia Fetuli.

“We decided instead to use biodegradable resources. The Samoan government is encouraging the use of bio-bags as they are called here; these start breaking down after six months. Most supermarkets use bags produced by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, while a few now produce their own.

“Our second and most exciting action has been to engage students and their parents in planting vegetables at school, in the hope that they will produce their own organic veggies to avoid having to buy them from shops and supermarkets.

“Students and parents are now involved in the action stage,” Malia reports, “and we are hoping to continue beyond the Year of Mercy. I am starting an organic garden and may have some crops like pineapples, bananas and taro next year.”

A major challenge, says Malia, has been to raise people’s awareness of the danger to the environment of using non-degradable material, especially when it comes to preparing and consuming food.

“One problem is the regular, almost daily use of aluminium tin foils to wrap food, rather than the natural and traditional way of using banana and breadfruit leaves, which are earth-friendly when they go back to the soil,” says Malia. “It’s a matter of persuading people to change their ways of thinking and acting, developing a new mind-set about daily living.”

Meanwhile another MIPR group in Dunedin has future generations as central to its focus. “Several in our group have children and grandchildren,” says group facilitator Teresa Hanratty rsm. “They are very aware of the importance of ensuring that our planet is habitable for those who are born in the future. We have focused on ways to reduce and recycle plastic bags, to prevent them going into waterways and landfill where they can cause great harm.”

Practical actions listed by Teresa include using a four-cornered piece of material secured with Velcro for wrapping lunches, instead of Glad wrap. Other strategies have been to wrap scones in a tea towel, to use biodegradable bags made from corn starch to collect household rubbish, and to make produce bags out of old t-shirts for use when shopping at supermarkets. Members have also been encouraged to buy eco-bags online, and to source a variety of compostable bags which are now available.
“We’ve suggested promoting new recycling products after Sunday Mass, and organising a recycled stall at local markets,” says Teresa.

Another group in Auckland has pursued a supermarket ministry, with a focus on using re-useable bags, buying organic and biodegradable products, and avoiding clothes made by slave or child labour.
Leader Linda van Bussel rsm explains this group’s topic as ‘vulnerable and displaced people’. She explains: “The main focus of our supermarket action has been intentional engagement with others in a way that takes us beyond our prejudices. Our intent is to interact with others through a smile, a helping hand, a readiness to talk about products, recognising our common humanness so that we can move beyond our learned perceptions of the other.”

At McAuley High School in South Auckland, a Mercy Young Adults MIRP group organised a blanket and food drive throughout the school. They also cleaned up litter every Wednesday and Friday during lunchtime, ensuring that the school grounds were kept tidy; and they have talked at class-level assemblies about the need to keep the environment clean and to care responsibly for the Earth. “We have looked for ways to help the most vulnerable in our world,” says Sister of Mercy Salome Ioane who leads the Mercy Young Adults. “Our focus has been on the poor, the homeless, the elderly and our broken Earth.”

A series of celebrations throughout New Zealand and the Pacific took place at the end of November 2016, as a way of giving thanks for the blessings of the Year of Mercy, as sisters and their partners in mission have sought to respond to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. “That we protect our environment and God’s creatures from the damage of plastic pollution, that we guard against littering God’s beautiful and sacred world,” said one of the prayers in this ritual.