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‘For the long haul’

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Interfaith gathering supports new energy vision

Randy Patrick
Landmark News Service

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In Leviticus, an ancient text sacred to Jews and Christians, God reminds his people that the land belongs to him, that they are but sojourners upon it, and that it is their purpose to provide for its redemption.

On Tuesday afternoon, some 70 believers, including nuns from three Catholic communities and representatives of Judaism, Sufism, Buddhism and Native American religion, gathered on a cold, windswept farm near New Haven to join in that redemptive work.

Led by concerns about the potential dangers of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline through Kentucky, they were there to support a statement declaring a new “energy vision.”

“We’re here,” said Sr. Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, “because of our love of God and God’s creation. We’re here because our hearts are breaking at what is happening to our beloved earth. We have chosen not to accept plans for our energy future that imperil our land, water, air and the well-being of all species. We are here because we believe we can contribute to the earth’s healing.”

Gatz led the interfaith group in prayer and introduced the other speakers, including those sisters and their associates who read portions of the statement for the first time in public.

Written about a month ago by representatives of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, the Loretto Community and the Dominican Sisters of Peace, the statement has been signed by at least 117 religious communities around the country and nearly 1,000 individuals, according to one of its authors, Sr. Claire McGowan of the Dominican Sisters. It calls for a “swift and steady transition” from natural gas and other fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Others who spoke in support of the statement included Native American spiritual teacher Bo Tipton of the Acorn Haven Spiritual Center in Cecilia; Jennifer Shelton of The Berry Center in Newcastle, who read a statement by Kentucky poet and environmentalist Wendell Berry; Sheikh Kabir Helminski and Camille Helminski of The Threshold Society in Louisville; Russel Greenleaf of the Jewish Voice for Peace in Louisville; and Anne Walter, president of the board of the Tibetan Buddhist Drepung Gomang Institute of Louisville.

The farm where the gathering was held belongs to the family of Amy Boone, one of the local activists against the Bluegrass Pipeline, which would transport toxic byproducts of natural gas drilling from the shale fields of the northeastern states to petrochemical plants on the Gulf Coast.

The pipeline issue, said Gatz, brought the matter of fossil fuels to the fore, but it is “part of something much bigger.”

One aspect of the event she appreciated, she said, was that the gathering expressed gratitude for what fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas had been able to provide for centuries, but insisted that it was time to move toward energy sources that are cleaner and renewable, such as sun, wind, water and geothermal energy.

The group also expressed compassion for those who work in the fossil fuel industries who will be hurt by the transition.

“It’s a moment of turning, and it’s not going to be an easy thing,” she said. “We are in the middle of the messy part of the turning to something new, and it’s going to take a long time.”

“That’s where, I think, people of faith have an advantage,” Gatz said, explaining that having a belief system gives people “staying power” that others might not have.

“It keeps you going for the long haul,” she said.