March 13, 2001
"ROLL ALONG COLUMBIA, ROLL ALONG !"
“Uncle Sam took up the challenge
in the year of Thirty Three
For the farmer and the factory
And for all of you and me,
He said, `Roll Along, Columbia,’
You can ramble to the sea,
But River, while you’re rambling,
You can do some work for me.”
--- Woody Guthrie, Bound For Glory, (c ) 1956 Folkways Record, Album N. FA2481
Throughout recorded history the beauty and grandeur of the
Great Pacific Northwest and the power of the mighty Columbia River has awed both
native and visitor alike. From the indigenous shaman to Woody Guthrie “the
misty, crystal glitter of that wild and windspray” has both capitvated the
imagination and inspired dreams.
Today, however, that mighty river, the ecological lynchpin of the region, is not just doing some “work” for us, but its very life is being threatened by the over use demands of corporate agribusiness, the nuclear power industry, large-scale commercial fishing, timber and mining interests.
Recognizing this most serious threat to the enviornment and the communities that inhabit the area a dozen Roman Catholic bishops in both the U.S. and Canada have issued an extraordinary pastoral letter expressing their deep concerns for the present and future of the river and the area through which it flows.
Similar to the 1980 Pastoral Letter, Strangers and Guests: Toward Community in the Heartland by the Midwestern Catholic Bishops, The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good integrates Catholic faith and ecological responsibility.
Because documents such as this tend to be generally and often purposely overlooked by the mainstream corporate media in their efforts to defend and promote the status quo and because frequently people of good intention and faith, in the words of the great editor Robert Hoyt “file and forget” such pronouncements THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER is publishing in two parts this most important letter of concern.
In publishing this Pastoral Letter for its readers serious consideration and as a model for other regions of the nation and the world to consider in addressing their own regional problems this publisher must profess a certain bias. Both as an adoring resident of the Great Pacific Northwest and as someone who is and has been educated a Roman Catholic I take pride along with a sense of urgency in offering to the readers of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER this document for their careful study and action.
With the assistance of grants from the United States Catholic Conference Environmental Justice Program and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the project that produced The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good began in 1997 with the formation of an international Steering Committee. The Committee represented Canadian and U.S. watershed dioceses and Catholic colleges and universities.
A series of "Readings of the Signs of the Times" was held in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in which representatives of diverse constituencies --- industry, agriculture, fishing, education and native peoples --- presented their perspectives on regional needs. A draft of these perspectives was enlarged and enhanced by the advice of a wide range of consultants: theologians, natural and social scientists, and church representatives. A web site was established describing Project activities and inviting comments from interested people.
An exploratory document, "The Columbia River Watershed: Realities and Possibilities," was released for discussion on May 12, 1999.
Subsequently, listening sessions were hosted by bishops from the Columbia River watershed. Hundreds of people from all walks of life participated in the process. All of their ideas and perspectives were considered for inclusion, and were reflected upon during the pastoral letter process in some way.
A poetic statement about the Columbia River, entitled
"Riversong," is also included in the appendix. The letter is being
disseminated through the Columbia River Pastoral Letter Project to provide an
international, watershed-wide, ongoing conversation process: to care for
creation, to resolve regional conflicts with respect, compassion and good will,
and to promote sustainable ecological relationships linked with community
THE COLUMBIA RIVER WATERSHED:
CARING FOR CREATION AND THE COMMON GOOD
An International Pastoral Letter
by the Catholic Bishops of the Region
"God saw all that had been made, and indeed it was very good." (Genesis 1:31)
"We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without
paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other
areas and to the well-being of future generations … delicate ecological balances
are upset by the uncontrolled destruction of animal and plant life or by a
reckless exploitation of natural resources. It should be pointed out that all of
this, even if carried out in the name of progress and well-being, is ultimately
to humankind's disadvantage.... An education in ecological responsibility is
urgent: responsibility for oneself, for others, and for the earth."
--Pope John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, 1990
"We must expand our understanding of the moral responsibility
of citizens to serve the common good…"
--The Catholic Bishops of the United States, Economic Justice for All, 1986
"The fundamental relation between humanity and nature is one of
caring for creation."
--The Catholic Bishops of the United States, Renewing the Earth, 1991
"We need to reexamine the ways we think and act, to affirm and
support what we are presently doing that is environmentally responsible and to
critique and challenge what is irresponsible and unsustainable."
--The Catholic Bishops of Alberta, Canada, Celebrate Life: Care for Creation, 1998
CARING FOR CREATION, COMMUNITY AND THE COLUMBIA
The Columbia River Watershed stands as one of the most
beautiful places on God's earth. Its mountains and valleys, forests and meadows,
rivers and plains reflect the presence of their Creator. Its farms and fishing
boats, rural communities and cities, railroads, ports and industries reveal the
varied ways in which peoples of the region have worked with earth's beauty and
bounty to derive their livelihood from the land and water.
The core of the 259,000 square miles of the Columbia Watershed is the 1,200 miles of the great river known as the Columbia. It begins in British Columbia in Canada, is fed in the U.S. by tributaries in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, and flows to the Pacific Ocean. This magnificent network of rivers --- the region's lifeblood --- is an extensive ecosystem that transcends national, state and provincial borders.
We, the Catholic bishops in the international watershed region of the United States and Canada, write this pastoral letter because we have become concerned about regional economic and ecological conditions and the conflicts over them in the watershed. We address this letter to our Catholic community and to all people of good will. We hope that we might work together to develop and implement an integrated spiritual, social and ecological vision for our watershed home, a vision that promotes justice for people and stewardship of creation.
We recognize the great contributions that our ancestors made to this region. The original native inhabitants and the early ranchers, farmers, fishers and loggers struggled against almost insurmountable odds to carve out a home in this sometimes inhospitable land. We recognize that damage to the watershed may have been caused by financial need and lack of knowledge more than by a lack of appreciation for the environment.
Our pastoral letter is not meant to criticize people's efforts to provide a suitable living for their family. We are hopeful that those involved in industry are, by and large, also concerned about the environment.
At the same time, we commend those who have recognized and responded to the environmental challenges that result from commercial and industrial enterprises. It is important for those with deeper concerns about the environment to recognize that farmers, ranchers and other landowners and workers are not their enemies. It is equally important that the latter groups seek to better understand environmental concerns. Protection of the land is a common cause promoted more effectively through active cooperation than through contentious wrangling.
We call for a thorough, humble and introspective evaluation that seeks to eliminate both economic greed that fails to respect the environment, and ecological elitism that lacks a proper regard for the legitimate rights and property of others.
The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good focuses particularly on our common responsibilities for our region. In this pastoral letter we will explore biblical and Catholic Church teachings about stewardship; the need to respect nature; and the need to recognize and promote the common good. These themes are consistent with a Christian belief that the earth is a creation of God intended to serve the needs of all creation.
Caring For Creation
The Columbia Watershed and all creation are entrusted to our
loving care. As persons created in the image of God and as stewards of creation
(Genesis 1-2), we are challenged to both use and respect created things.
The watershed is ultimately God's; human beings are entrusted with
responsibility for it, concern for its species and ecology, and regulation of
its competitive and complementary uses.
The watershed, seen through eyes alive with faith, can be a revelation of God's presence, an occasion of grace and blessing. There are many signs of the presence of God in this book of nature, signs that complement the understandings of God revealed in the pages of the Bible, both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
Caring for Community
People are created in the image and likeness of God and are called to be neighbors to one another. We are created as social beings who must exercise a certain responsibility toward our neighbors. Each is responsible, in part, for promoting the good of the entire human community and the good of our common home.
Caring for Our Common Home
The watershed is the common home and habitat of God's
creatures, a source of human livelihood, and a setting for human community. The
commons belongs to everyone, and yet belongs to no one. We hold this land in
trust for our present use, for future generations, and ultimately for God, from
whom all good things come. It is intended by God to be used for the well-being
of all its human inhabitants, present and future.
The common good demands a proper respect for the land, the air and the water to assure that when we have passed through this land it remains habitable and productive for those who come after us.
The recognition of the presence and plan of God challenges us to work to understand better the ecosystems of our region and to seek to utilize its goods justly while respecting the value of all its creatures.
Commitment to Creation and the Common Good
The preservation of the Columbia Watershed's beauty and
benefits requires us to enter into a gradual process of conversion and change.
Our goal is to review very broadly the present situation of the watershed; to
reflect on our common regional history; to imagine a viable, sustainable future
for the watershed; and to seek ways to realize our vision.
Therefore, we offer four reflections, entitled: "The Rivers of our Moment," "The Rivers through our Memory," "The Rivers in our Vision," and "The Rivers as our Responsibility." We suggest that people will have to change some current practices to transform the watershed into an economically and ecologically sustainable place.
A Project in Process
As Catholic bishops, we offer a pastoral reflection spoken with
a voice of faith and compassion, offering insights drawn from the teachings of
Jesus Christ and from the Christian tradition through the ages, particularly the
developing Catholic social ethical thought of the past century. We teach with
Pope John Paul II that "Christians, in particular, realize that their
responsibility within creation and their duty toward nature and the Creator are
an essential part of their faith." (The Ecological Crisis: A Common
Responsibility, hereafter EC, § 15)
We hope that the values we express, the issues we raise, and the insights we offer will serve as a catalyst for further discussion toward the resolution of the complex issues of the Columbia River Watershed. We invite people to explore with us the implications of the Christian idea of human stewardship of creation, and to effect a spiritual, social and ecological transformation of the watershed.
I THE RIVERS OF OUR MOMENT
When people travel in the Columbia River Watershed they see
areas of pristine beauty, where the handiwork of God is hardly touched by human
interventions. They see areas of ordered beauty, where people have worked well
with the land and water in their care. And they see areas of blight, where
people have disregarded their responsibilities to their Creator, their community
and their environment.
Contradictions in human behavior are evident throughout the region. There are beautiful farms and deteriorated riverbanks; degraded forests and landscaped community parks; chemical and radioactive wastes seeping into the rivers; and conscientious children cleaning streambeds. In areas of Canada, extremes in river levels that prevent the existence of both natural ecologies and human enterprises are caused by dams built primarily to meet U.S. needs for energy and at times for flood control. In both countries, we share the watershed with members of the animal kingdom. We are stewards of this ecosystem with its diversity of life. What is the current condition of our region?
Throughout the past century industrial development provided needed goods and jobs in the watershed and beyond. Sometimes this development has resulted in harm for the watershed. Dams provide energy, and aluminum plants provide airplane parts. But the construction and use of these human structures have been accompanied by the loss of fishing-related enterprises. U.S. dams provide irrigation, but dams north of the border have resulted in flooded Canadian lands and communities, depriving families of their homes, farms and businesses. Modern technology has provided better living, but has also produced chemical and radioactive waste storage sites that pose serious threats for the area.
The endangerment and possible extinction of the area’s animal and fish species are of notable concern in our day. The specific causes of, and remedies for, salmon endangerment and extinction are hotly debated in the region.
Indigenous peoples of the watershed --- called First Nations in Canada and Native Americans in the United States --- have unique cultures and insights. But native peoples have been targets of racism, and experience economic hardships. The terms of treaties made with them, such as the 1855 treaty with the Yakamas in the United States, often have not been respected. Indigenous peoples in the region seek the freedom to exercise fishing and water rights once thought to be guaranteed by treaties.
Agriculture is a valuable contributor to community life and to the economic well-being in our region. Some operations currently are partially dependent on irrigation water and energy supplied by dams. Owner-operated family farms are on the decline, with consequent impacts on rural businesses, schools and communities. Agricultural chemicals are used to control pests and increase profits, but these can also be sources of pollution of land and water. Unmanaged entry of livestock into rivers can damage riverbank habitat and harm aquatic life. Responsibly run family farms, and responsibly managed corporate agribusiness operations, are important in our region as sources of food and as stabilizing economic influences. Their well-being is vital to the economic life of the watershed.
Mining has provided jobs and funded schools, but its residues sometimes leave the land and waters tainted. In the watershed, one finds examples of huge cleanup sites as well as environmentally dangerous working conditions. By contrast, there are also industrial operations that stand as models of respect for people's health and which exemplify a proper stewardship of the watershed.
Forestry has provided needed lumber for homes and industry, and jobs for loggers, mill workers, truckers, plant managers and support staff. In some places, timber harvesting and road construction harm local areas by causing increased runoff and sedimentation. Exemplary forest stewards are cognizant of the impact of their industry on the surrounding land and rivers, as well as on the workers and communities where their business is located.
Working people are concerned about finding or keeping employment in the watershed. Land-related occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry and shipping are directly linked to the flowing waters of the river network. Many other jobs are tied to them as well. The economy is dependent on the health of the regional ecosystem. There are limited land and water resources, despite seeming abundance, especially in arid areas. Political, business, labor and religious leaders are striving collaboratively, in some areas, to integrate the needs of communities, workers and the environment.
Consolidation of ownership of land and commercial enterprises occurs in the region. People are seeking clear ethical guidelines and standards to promote just property distributions, appropriate access to land and water, and an equitable sharing of regional goods.
Recreational uses of the land provide needed rest and recuperation for people. Environmental impacts of various types of recreational pursuits are being assessed. People need places for quiet reflection, meditation, appreciation of God's creation, relaxed fishing and rigorous exercise. Other creatures need habitat for shelter and reproduction.
We are blessed in the diversity of our peoples and of our land. A renewed appreciation for both is contributing to increased community well-being and ecological health in our region.
Signs of Hope
We see signs of hope amid the problems of the watershed. Many
people live responsibly from, and work with, the gifts and goods of the Columbia
and its tributaries. Many understand that their own or others' actions have
caused harm. They are striving to guide human activities and shape corporate
operations and community consciousness with the ethics of stewardship of
We see signs of hope in the scientific studies of agricultural, fishing, transportation and energy needs. Renewed hope is evident in a new consciousness among government officials and business entrepreneurs about the impact of past abuses of the rivers' environment and their expressed intentions to avoid similar abuses in the future. There is hope in the various proposals for carrying out a responsible cleanup of the devastation wrought by various operations of the past. Various conservation and species-strengthening measures bode well for the future.
Efforts to use profits from U.S. dam operations to compensate Canadian communities most heavily impacted are a sign of a stronger sense of justice. The compassionate and constructive exchange of ideas by people of diverse and sometimes competitive interests is more and more common. Greater community involvement, by which local citizens reflect on local issues and seek to address them, shows an appropriate concern and responsibility for the common good.
Spiritual and Social Consciousness
Our awareness of the presence of God, who is lovingly concerned
about creation, and our openness to God's grace enlightening and strengthening
us, enable us to confront the conditions that concern us, and to affirm and
commend the signs of hope that we see.
One of the key concepts that applies to our entire discussion is simply respect. Industry must respect people and nature and take particular care to be cognizant of its impact on the common good. People must exercise a basic respect for one another, for God, for other creatures and for the environment. Individuals also need to respect the rights of others, including those engaged in agriculture, mining, forestry and the like.
We must become increasingly aware of the needs of people, our neighbors; of the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death; and of the integrated ecosystem whose benefits and complexities we share. We are called to relate to people as neighbors and to our shared place as our common home. We recognize our responsibility for this place, a sign of God's creative power that is blessed by God's presence. We are responsible to God and to the community and we are responsible for the creation around us.
II THE RIVERS THROUGH OUR MEMORY
The second step in spiritual, social and ecological transformation is to reflect on the waters of our memory as they are expressed in regional and religious traditions. The history of the Columbia Watershed is described in people’s written and oral stories, and is evident in geological formations and biological diversity.
In the watershed, the natural physical laws instilled in
creation by God control the tectonic plate collisions, floods, glaciers and
earthquakes that shape the land and waters. Migrations of animals and
people have given new forms to the land, and brought about new relationships
among creatures and between creatures and the earth.
Human communities entering the watershed adapted to, or altered, natural settings. Along the Columbia River, the first peoples in the region (even though they were sometimes in conflict with each other over village, hunting or fishing sites) generally adapted themselves to Che Wana, the Great River. They knew a continuous river, undivided by political boundaries. They fished for salmon, hunted wild game and gathered roots and berries to sustain themselves.
Native religions taught respect for the ways of nature, personified as a nurturing mother for all creatures. They saw the salmon as food from this mother, and the river as the source of their life and the life of the fish. They adapted themselves to the river and to the cycles of the seasons. Among the Wanapum, the River People, some elders were set apart as dreamers and healers, respected for their visions and healing powers.
Europeans and Euro-Americans made their way west beginning in the 16th century. An American explorer, Captain Robert Gray, renamed the great river "Columbia" in 1792. Trappers and traders came to provide the basis for a United States claim to the river region and to establish new forms of commerce in the area. After the trapping of beaver and other fur-bearing animals ceased to be profitable, new immigrants entered the region, established homesteads and towns, and turned to agriculture and to salmon as sources of food and livelihood.
Unregulated fishing and cannery industries seriously depleted salmon supplies. The River People were forced to live a modified way of life on severely diminished lands, with less abundant salmon runs. Eventually, dams on the Columbia-Snake river system, and open sea fishing operations in the Pacific Ocean had further impacts on the species. In 1957, the opening up of the Dalles Dam destroyed Celilo Falls, a tremendously important Native American fishing area.
Besides these human interventions, climatic changes could impact salmon populations. Regional and global warming, which alters water temperatures and salmon predators' habits, may also accelerate declines in salmon populations.
Human communities in the watershed have oral and written memories of its ongoing history. In this community memory there are elements of a community conscience, a moral sense of appropriate social interaction developed over time and adapted to and lived in each new era. Responsible community memories recall not only moments of achievement, but also moments of social insensitivity.
Regional people in the United States have community myths about the West --- myths about rugged individualism; absolute ownership "rights"; a narrow economic way of valuing places, things and even people; and a myth that the West was "won" without government assistance. Such myths sometimes make it difficult for people to understand the importance of ecosystems, and the benefits of government policies to conserve natural goods for the whole community.
Peoples of the rivers have a religious memory. In the Catholic
tradition, that memory includes biblical and Church teachings about human
responsibilities for creation.
God, who alone can create, invites people to participate in divine creativity. Thus, humans have a unique role. In the physical universe, they alone are consciously able to be caretakers of creation. In the physical order, only humans, with the abilities granted to them, can understand creatures soaring in the heights or swimming in the depths, and can come to know the laws of biology, chemistry and physics that influence creation. They are called to use these understandings to describe, celebrate, develop and care for creation. They are created in the image and likeness of God and are commissioned as stewards of God’s created and beautiful universe.
Created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), humans are to recognize that all of God's works and creatures, as they emerge from God's creative loving power, are "very good" (Genesis 1:31). God cares for these creatures.
At the end of the Genesis flood story, God makes a covenant, whose sign is the rainbow, with "every living creature" and with "the earth" (Genesis 9:12-13). Wisdom says of God: "You love all things that are ... your imperishable spirit is in all things!" (Wisdom 11:24; 12:1). Job reveals God's providence for all creatures (Job 38-41). In the Psalms the poet calls upon all creation to "praise the Lord" (Psalm 148).
The author of Sirach exclaims: "How beautiful are all God's works! Even to the spark and fleeting vision! The universe lives and abides forever; to meet each need, each creature is preserved. All of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has [God] made in vain, for each in turn, as it comes, is good; can one ever see enough of their splendor?" (Sirach 42:23-25).
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus notes that God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the fields as well as for people (Luke 12:24-28). In the Letter to the Colossians we are taught that God was pleased through Christ "to reconcile all things ... whether those on earth or those in heaven" (Colossians 1:20). People are called to live in God's presence solicitous of the wondrous works of God: the earth and the earth's inhabitants.
Stewardship is the traditional Christian expression of the role of people in relation to creation. Stewards, as caretakers for the things of God, are called to use wisely and distribute justly the goods of God's earth to meet the needs of God’s children. They are to care for the earth as their home and as a beautiful revelation of the creativity, goodness and love of God. Creation is a "book of nature" in whose living pages people can see signs of the Spirit of God present in the universe, yet separate from it.
The individual members of the human family are called to respect both creation and Creator and are responsible for that part of the earth entrusted to their stewardship, whether by property rights or other legal or managerial responsibility. They are to take care of the earth out of respect for the Creator who loves all creatures, and out of a charity that calls us to love our neighbor.
Our unique role in creation as God's stewards carries with it a serious responsibility for service to God and to creation. As Jesus teaches us, when we are given positions of responsibility, we are called to serve and not to be served by those in our care; we are not to "lord it over them" (See Matthew 20:25-28.) We neither worship creation nor are worshiped by creation; we relate to creation as its stewards, with the unique responsibilities that God has entrusted to us.
Creation provides the opportunity for spiritual contemplation because it is from God and reveals God. The natural world of creation is not itself to be worshiped. It is not an autonomous being, but a revelation of the wondrous power and love of its Creator. In the created universe we may perceive the brush strokes of a loving God.
The bishops of the United States have voiced this sentiment in Renewing the Earth, declaring that the Christian vision of the universe --- "a world that discloses the Creator's presence by visible and tangible signs --- can contribute to making the earth a home for the human family once again." And in eloquent words the bishops of Alberta, Canada, in their statement: Celebrate Life: Care for Creation, teach that "the abundance and beauty of God's creation reveal to us something of the generosity of the Creator. God is present and speaks in the dynamic life forces of our universe and planet as well as in our own lives. Respect for life needs to include all creation."
Each portion of creation can be sign and revelation for the person of faith, a moment of grace revealing God's presence to us. Our minds and spirits can catch glimpses of God in moments of solitude, reflection and grace in God’s wondrous creation.
The Columbia and the Common Good
As the whole universe can be a source of blessing or revelation
of God, so also the commons of a local place can be revelatory. In a setting
such as the Columbia River Watershed, the signs of God's creativity and presence
are abundant. The startling beauty of a snowcapped mountain or a colorful
sunset, a river valley or a starlit night, the sight of a well-kept farm
integrated with its surroundings or the free flight of a bird -- all point
beyond themselves to the Creator of the universe. In words taken from the Book
of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures: "From the greatness and the beauty of
created things their original author, by analogy, is seen" (Wisdom
Signs of God’s presence are evident in all of creation. When we are open to the Spirit of God we may experience the loving presence of God among us.
In biblical teachings and the Christian tradition the earth is intended by God to provide for the needs of peoples as they live in complex and diverse ecosystems. The Bible teaches that people should distribute property and goods justly. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Scriptures, a description of an early Christian community in Jerusalem states that the members "had all things in common" (Acts 2:44) so that the needs of all might be met.
The documents of the Second Vatican Council likewise reference the common good: "The state has the duty to prevent anyone from abusing his private property to the detriment of the common good. By its nature private property has a social dimension which is based on the law of common destination of earthly goods" (The Church in the Modern World, § 71, 1965).
Our present Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, declared that "private property, in fact, is under a 'social mortgage,' which means that it has an intrinsically social function, based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods" (On Social Concern, § 42).
The Bible and our Christian tradition teach us about the
benefits of water, which is seen both literally and figuratively as a giver of
life. A key phrase used in these sources of our spirituality is "living water."
In the Hebrew Scriptures, living water meant water that is flowing free and
pure; it is contrasted with water from wells or cisterns, which tended to be
stagnant and undesirable.
In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus appropriated the term "living water" to refer to himself as the source of genuine spiritual life. He applied this symbol to himself because he knew that people depend on water for their survival as individuals and as communities; that water slakes thirst and quenches fields and livestock as well as wild creatures. Water, used in religious ceremonies, gives life to our spirits, too. It is the element used to symbolize spiritual cleansing and a sign of God’s grace conferred upon us.
Water was present at significant actual and symbolic moments of God’s revelation to humanity. The prophets of old envisioned a place where spiritual waters and earthly waters flowed together, with the earthly waters a symbol of the spiritual. Isaiah proclaimed, "I will pour out water upon the thirsty ground, and streams upon the dry land; I will pour out my spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing upon your descendants" (44:3), and "All you who are thirsty, come to the water!" (55:1). And Ezekiel (47:1-12) saw water flowing from beneath the temple and becoming a river along whose banks trees grew abundantly. He added that "Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh." Ezekiel’s vision is recalled later by the seer of Revelation (1-2).
Jesus was baptized by John in the flowing waters of the Jordan River (Mark 1:9). At the temple, Jesus exclaimed: "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’ (John 7:37-38). Jesus told the Samaritan woman that he gives "living water" to those who ask (John 4:4-15). Water flowing from Jesus' side at his crucifixion is richly symbolic; by his death he offers eternal life to all (John 19:31-37). Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all nations, "baptizing them" with water (Matthew 28:18-20). The living water offered by Jesus for our spirit and the living water in God's creation for our body are both life-giving waters -- one natural, the other supernatural.
The Columbia River and its tributaries are intended by God to be living water: bountiful and healthy providers for the common good. The water itself is to be a clear sign of the Creator's presence.
Church Teaching About the Land
In the Catholic tradition, for more than a century, church
leaders have developed teachings on social justice. Social justice for people
and proper respect for the earth are now seen as related issues. The Catholic
bishops of the Midwest state that "the way in which we relate to the land will
affect the extent to which the land will continue to provide our sustenance and
livelihood" (from Strangers and Guests); and the Catholic bishops of the
United States teach that "the fundamental relation between humanity and nature
is one of caring for creation" (Renewing the Earth).
Similarly, Pope John Paul II instructs us that "[There should be a priority of] the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion" (Canada, 1984), and that "the Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation.... The ecological crisis is a moral issue" (The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, 1990, § 14, 15).
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops took up these themes, calling for respect for regional ecologies. These Church teachings point to the need to work for justice for people, and proper stewardship of the earth’s goods.
In the United States, Canada, and globally, a majority of the earth's goods are controlled by a minority of individuals. While many people lack life's basic necessities, others have more than an excess for a lifetime. This gross imbalance is harmful to humanity and, to the extent that singular individuals have consumed more than a reasonable share of earth’s resources, they have harmed creation. Good stewards of creation use what they need and recognize that others, both those presently living and future generations, have a right to enjoy the fruits of the earth as well.
As people have become more absorbed by material things and less conscious of spiritual and social relationships, consumerism has replaced compassion, and exploitation of the earth has replaced stewardship. There is a need for a spiritual conversion to a better and deeper sense of stewardship for God's creation and responsibility for our communities. This global reality touches our watershed, and it is important to take stock of it and envision a transformed future for our region.