Faith communities continue drive to stop oil pipeline project

About 3,000 people joined a rally to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline proposed to carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Witnesses lined up early this morning at the State Deptartment to offer their views on a $7 billion pipeline project designed to carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil daily from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

On one side were representatives of the energy industry who say the project would produce thousands of construction jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil. The other included religious and environmental groups concerned that extracting oil in Canada’s northern boreal forest will accelerate climate change and harm the livelihood of First Nations people.

The project has raised sensitivities in both the U.S. and Canada as debates have revolved around the benefits of economic development and  jobs in a deep recession and the long-term impact on climate change.

Because the 1,700-mile pipeline crosses an international border, the State Department is charged with recommending to President Barack Obama whether to sign off on a permit for the project or not. In August, the State Department cleared the way for construction in a report that found the project poses no serious threat to the environment and will enhance national security.

Obama’s decision is due by the end of the year. The White House has declined to say how he is leaning.

The hearing in Washington today was the last. Earlier hearings took place in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, states through which the pipeline would pass.

A rally outside of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center near the White House took place as the hearing continued inside.

About 3,000 people cheered calls for stopping the project.

Bill McKibben, author, educator and environmental activist, credited the faith community for playing a growing role in the debate on the project.

In a brief interview after the rally, he told Catholic News Service that involvement by Catholics in the envirinomental movement is satisfying and he credited the Vatican for talking about the consequences of global warming.

“The Vatican has said some of the right things in recent years about climate change and it’s been nice to see,” he said. “It hasn’t been a very active thing for Catholics, but I think that’s changing.”

While the rally continued, Franciscan Father Jacek Orzechowski, parochial vicar of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., was waiting to testify at the hearing. His testimony can be seen here and fast forward to the 1:45:00 mark.

Father Orzechowski told CNS he opposes the pipeline on moral grounds and that his faith and the words of Pope Benedict XVI are leading him to act.

“The science is clear that we must have drastic reductions in greenhouse gases,” said Father Orzechowski, representing the Franciscan Action Network, which addresses justice issues. “We have to do it quick in order to avert catastrophic consequences.”

Father Orzechowski was one of more than 1,200 people arrested outside of the White House for protesting the pipeline in a series of actions in late August and early September.

He also was one of six religious representatives who met Oct. 6 with Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Kathy McNeely, a staff member of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, was the other Catholic representative at the meeting.

Both stressed to Jones that the U.S. must invest in sustainable energy sources as a job creator rather than promote the continued use of fossil fuels.

Michelle Knight, of the Columban Fathers’ Center for Advocacy and Outreach, also was in line early hoping to testify. She told CNS she planned to address concerns about the dangers any potential oil spill would pose to the shallow Ogallala Aquifer, which provides irrigation and drinking
water to 2 million people in the central U.S.

“We’re all part of God’s creation and we need to protect God’s creation,” she said.

Shout out and plea for Catholic schools

Catholic school in Wilmington, Del. (CNS photo/ Don Blake)

Catholic schools got a shout out, of sorts, in the opinion page of The Wall St. Journal Sept. 30.  The column praised Catholic schools for all their achievements but also lamented their increasing struggles.

“Catholic education in the United States is in dire straits,” wrote Richard Riordan,  former mayor of Los Angeles and the founding president of the Los Angeles Catholic Education Foundation. Citing a recent study by Loyola Marymount University, he noted that 98 percent of Catholic high school students graduate and most of them continue on to college.  But despite the academic success of these schools, enrollment is down and many Catholic schools are closing. Today’s 2 million students attending 6,900 Catholic schools is a far cry from the 5.5 million students attending more than 13,000 U.S. Catholic schools in the early 1960s .

Riordan said this trend is not the result of a lack of demand but of the inability of parents to pay tuition.

That’s why his foundation just announced a campaign to raise $100 million for Catholic schools in the Los Angeles area — in the hope of providing Catholic school scholarships to local students in need.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez likewise noted the great achievements of Catholic schools coupled by their growing unattainable cost for so many. He also credited the Catholic Educational Foundation for making a Catholic education available to so many who would not have been able to afford it.  He described the foundation as one of the church’s “most important social programs” noting that in the last 24 years it provided 120,000 tuition awards totaling $108 million to the poorest families in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

In his column in The Tidings, the archbishop said:”Our schools face challenges. The most serious come from the economic needs of families who can’t afford the costs of Catholic school tuition. So we need to find a way to help.”

He said the mission to help Catholic schools should be shared by all Catholics. “Let’s work together to grow our Catholic schools, to expand into new areas where schools are needed, and to raise the money we need to give a Catholic education to every student who wants it,” he wrote.

Riordan’s message was similar: “Each of us, no matter what career we have followed, has an obligation to educate the next generation. The education needed for success in our world necessarily includes the basics of reading, writing and math. It must also include the ability to reason, to make good judgments, and to be responsible for our planet and all its peoples. These have been the fundamentals of our Catholic schools for over a century. We must guarantee they are here for generations to come.”