When I was researching the Marlin mine in Guatemala and the indigenous anti-mining movement, it quickly became clear that the local Catholic church was the key player in leading and organizing the opposition. When I interviewed a guy named Roberto in San Marcos, who was heading up the Diocese’s anti-mining initiatives, he said that it just made sense for the church to be leading the way, since no other institution or entity was better placed or more connected to the people. I’m less familiar with the varying roles that local and national churches are playing elsewhere in anti-mining movements throughout Latin America, but Catholic News Service has a piece on a conference of bishops in Peru grappling with the issue:
When Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo first considered the high lead levels in the blood of children living in the Peruvian highland city of La Oroya, he asked himself, “What would Jesus do?”
Five years ago, the U.S.-owned mining company Doe Run was running a minerals smelter complex that was mainly responsible for the poor air quality in the fifth-most polluted city in the world, the archbishop told delegates at an international Latin American bishops’ council seminar on extractive industries. The archbishop told delegates he answered his own question by beginning an ultimately successful campaign to close the complex.
Now, as the new president of the Latin American bishops’ council department of justice and solidarity, Archbishop Barreto has a four-year mandate to encourage the Latin American church to consider and act on the question at the root of his ministry.
They’re going to be reaching out to North American bishops to see if they can get their counterparts in wealthy nations to join them in their efforts. The timing is urgent too, as delegates at the conference “noted an accelerated expansion of extractive industries fed by ‘a fossil-fuel energy model, the pursuit of profit at any cost and a surge of materialistic greed.’” The piece continues:
The CELAM conference committed the church to playing a role in informing communities about the benefits and disadvantages of extractive industries, using church radios and other media.
“In this way, the church wishes to contribute to the population being informed and taking a well-founded and critical decision, offering alternative proposals to defend its rights via arguments and dialogue,” the document said.
It’s encouraging to see bishops in the Catholic church stepping up in this way. I’ve yet to see any sort of concerted effort among Protestant clergy in Latin America doing likewise. And Christians of all sorts here in the US and Canada have been very slow in waking up to what mining is doing to our neighbors to the south. I remain hopeful this will change, but at times that hope wears thin. Stories like this reignite that hope just a little bit.