POMPTON LAKES, N.J. — As people around the world honor St. Francis this month as the patron saint of the environment, parishioners of St. Mary’s Church are advocating through educational programs, rallies and the media to keep New Jersey’s land and water clean.
Several weeks ago, the Social Justice Ministry of St. Mary’s Parish presented the 2010 documentary “Gasland” to educate community members about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of acquiring natural gas from shale deposits below the earth’s surface. The Sept. 14 program was attended by more than 160 people, including Josh Fox, director of the award-winning film, who explained how he became interested in fracking.
Jackie Schramm, director of St. Mary’s Social Justice Ministry, said she was very impressed with the interest and enthusiasm of those who attended the program. “The attendees posed excellent questions,” she said.
Parochial vicar Lawrence Anderson, OFM, shown in photo, spoke, as well as a local assemblywoman.
Next week, a group of parishioners and members of the North Jersey chapter of the Franciscan Response to Fracking Campaign is planning to protest the Delaware River Water Commission’s expected plan to allow fracking along the Delaware River. Fracking is said to affect the Delaware Watershed, the source of drinking water for more than 15 million people in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
On Oct. 21, according to a recent announcement in the St. Mary’s bulletin, members of the Delaware River Basin Commission have called a special meeting in Trenton, N.J., to consider whether to open the Delaware River Watershed to fracking; and to use river water for fracking. Millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemicals are used for each fracking process.
The parish bulletin reported: “Thousands of cases of water contamination, from the chemicals used to the natural gas itself have been documented, some of which were examined in the multi-award-winning film. Unfortunately, gas companies are exempt from identifying the chemicals used in the fracking process and are also exempt from observing requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
The North Jersey Chapter of the Franciscan Response to Fracking Campaign is a newly-formed action group dedicated to informing the community about fracking and the importance of “remaining vigilant regarding the environment, in particular, the safety of drinking water,” according to a Sept. 25 article on NorthJersey.com about the efforts of St. Mary’s to spread awareness about the impact of hydraulic fracturing.
St. Mary’s has taken a strong position against fracking, Schramm said. “It is so obviously not in keeping with Franciscan values, specifically because of the threat it poses to the environment, especially to in-ground water.”
Pastor Frank Sevola, OFM, said, “I am proud to be the pastor of a parish that has such a keen awareness of social justice issues that are important, not only on the national scene, but the local scene as well. Jackie Schramm and all the people involved are very dedicated. This ministry is very good at taking the adage ‘think globally, act locally’ and making it work for us. I am very happy with the social justice ministry here at St. Mary’s.”
“When those seeking to make a quick profit turn God’s gift of life-giving water into a toxic soup of lethal chemicals, people of faith must not remain indifferent,” Shramm said in a July 27 article in HNP Today. Information about the movement to ban fracking can be found on FoodAndWaterWatch.org. The parish also recommends a video, “Save the Delaware,” according to the Oct. 9 St. Mary’s bulletin.
Details about the St. Mary’s bus trip to the Trenton protest, open to all, are available through Claire Furber at 973-513-9774. The Oct. 21 rally is co-sponsored by 350.org and FoodAndWaterWatch.org.
Information about how other Provincial ministries are advocating for social justice issues can be found on the JPIC in Action page, under Justice and Peace on HNP.org.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.