Climate change hurting poor seminarians in Africa, says priest

VATICAN CITY – Climate change is hurting poor farmers, including farming seminarians in Africa.

Father Terence Lino Idraku of the Apostles of Jesus, an African missionary congregation, said that drought followed by violent rains have destroyed many of the crops cultivated by the congregation’s seminarians.

Father Idraku told Fides, the Vatican missionary news agency, that seminarians met most of their own food needs in the early 1990s by growing corn, sorghum, sweet potatoes and beans.

The priest, who was in Rome to finish his studies after working with the congregation in Africa, told Fides Dec. 14 that in recent years, rainfall has been coming late in the season and when it comes the torrential downpours destroy anything that was planted too late.

The dry season has extended into longer periods of drought and many plant buds die in the high temperatures, he said.

The only things seminarians have been able to grow are a few vegetables that must be watered by hand, the priest said.

The farming difficulties have been experienced by the missionary congregation’s five minor seminaries in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan, he said. They have about 800 seminarians and many of them are from poor families that cannot be expected to provide boarding costs for their sons. For that reason, the seminarians have tried to grow most of the food needs of their communities.

But recently “due to climate change, they cannot produce anything and they depend on external aid to survive,” said Father Idraku.

“The problem of climate change is a serious problem, which has serious consequences on people’s lives, especially the poorest,” he said.

He said it is important people cut back on the production of the greenhouse gases thought to cause climate change “rather than place the survival of entire populations on the line.”

The priest’s appeal echoed what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his message for World Peace Day 2010. The pope underlined how large numbers of people around the planet are experiencing growing hardship “because of the negligence or refusal of many others to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment.”

Cardinal Renato Martino, who presented the pope’s message during a Dec. 15 Vatican press conference, said that the aftermath of droughts in Northern Brazil “is frightening.”

The retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said bishops from Brazil visiting the Vatican recently told him the dry season now lasts more than eight or nine months.

“If the farmers don’t have cisterns for water to survive the dry season they are forced to become ‘environmental refugees,’ ” he said.

To help alleviate the situation the bishops wanted to find funding for the building of 60 cisterns for the local population.

The cardinal was able to procure funding for the bishops’ project through the St. Matthew Foundation, established in memory of the late Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, a former president of the justice and peace council.

The problem of drought will not be resolved with this one project, Cardinal Martino said, and he expressed hopes that the Brazilian government’s plan to build 1 million cisterns for drought-affected farmers would be completed.

Access to clean water should be a human right, because “it is a right to life,” the cardinal said.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.