What started in 2004 as a 2,000-square-foot organic garden behind La Iglesia Santa Maria Virgen in Itabo, Cuba, grew to a community-wide project that empowered people and spread to vacant lots, yards and other dioceses.
"A small group of people, in small places, doing small things, can change the face of the earth," is a popular saying in Cuba, said Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio of the Episcopal Church of Cuba.
Delgado, formerly the rector of Santa Maria Virgen, shared the story of her parish's garden during a presentation here Dec. 7, the first day of the inaugural Episcopal Climate Justice Gathering.
More than 30 people -- mostly Anglicans and Episcopalians and a few ecumenical seminarians -- from Cuba, the United States, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic are meeting Dec. 7-10 at the Bishop Kellogg Center here for the gathering, convened by Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California, and Bishop Naudal Gomes, Diocese of Curitiba, Brazil.
Three important things began to happen as the garden grew, Delgado explained to ENS through a translator following the day's formal discussion: the people discovered they could make money by cultivating and preserving food; people learned how to work as a team and discovered they had previously undiscovered talents and the potential to create a new life; and, most importantly, the people grew spiritually, found faith and discovered God in life, she said.
Delgado was one of four presenters, including the Rev. Christopher Morck, environmental program officer for the Latin America Council of Churches; the Rev. Pedro Ivo Batista of the Episcopal Anglican Province of Brazil; and the Rev. Diego Fernando Sabogal, of Colombia, who each spoke during the session aimed at framing the gathering's conversation on climate justice.
The purpose of the meeting is to explore the intersection between poverty and climate change, and perhaps begin to change the conversation in the church from one of "climate change" to "climate justice."
The gathering convened as world leaders met for a second week of climate talks in CancÃºn, Mexico, to attempt to hammer out the details of an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
At the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, negotiators failed to reach a binding deal to replace the protocol. Developing nations are pushing for a second phase of Kyoto, including deeper emissions cuts.
The Episcopal gathering's presence "signifies the desire to envision together what justice means in the face of climate-induced suffering and continued environmental destruction," Morck said during his presentation, which focused on the general themes of the climate justice movement.
Climate justice needs to be considered in context of broader questions, he said, including how people relate to each other and the earth and what Christian witness and practice mean in an "unprecedented crisis caused by specific human groups, ideologies and actions."
"The intimate connection between wealth and economic growth to poverty and environmental crisis is both our past and our present, and many of the 'solutions' to the climate crisis threaten to repeat once more the way the overdeveloped have impoverished others as their enslaved labor pool, their amoral superstore of raw materials, their waste dump, their theater of war," said Morck.
Early on in the gathering, particular themes began to emerge, including the consensus that now is the time for the church to reclaim and fortify its prophetic voice.
Solidarity is the thing that makes the prophetic voice strong, said Andrus during the discussion.
"In our [church] language, we think of the prophetic voice as one," he said. "People need to speak in solidarity with one another."
Andrus used the example of abolishing apartheid in South Africa. It wasn't until South Africa's problem became the world's problem, he said, that the country was able to rid itself of its racial-social ideology of separation.
During his talk about social movements and climate change, Batista, who has for more than 20 years been involved in social justice movements, talked about the threat of disappearance now affecting island nations and other vulnerable populations.
"People who live on the river banks, coasts, mountains are already being affected by climate change and all governments of the world know that this is happening," said Batista, as translated from Portuguese. "There has never been so much talk about climate change as there has been in the last 20 years â¦ Why are they speaking so much about it and still some haven't signed on to Kyoto? â¦ Not because of lack of technology or science or spiritual contentions, it's because of a lack of political will."
In addition to the church finding its prophetic voice once again, other themes that began to emerge from the gathering included the need to translate theology into action, developing a catechism of redemption based on peoples' relationship to nature, engaging children and youth and creating community awareness.
In regard to the latter, Delgado said, Santa Maria Virgen's garden said it all.
"Once they started doing the work, we didn't have to tell anybody -- people caught on to what was happening, the university came, the media came, the minister of agriculture came because it was something that was happening and people could see it," she said.