About the author: Fr Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Blasco is a Jesuit priest from Valencia, Spain. He currently lives in Guatemala where he is the parish priest of Santa Maria Chiquimula. He has just finished a speaking tour of five dioceses across England and Wales, where he shared the environmental challenges faced in his parish as well as the work taking place to build a better future, with support from CAFOD.
“For me, faith is everything. Faith in Christ gives meaning to my life and it is the foundation of all that I do – whether in my personal life or in my work in Santa Maria Chiquimula.
The parish is home to some of the poorest and most marginalised in Guatemalan society. It is located in the highlands of Guatemala, about 6,600 feet high. There are plenty of mountains and forest, but the environment is suffering greatly. Deforestation is common place – where trees are cut down leaving vast, open areas of land susceptible to mud slides and a lack of water.
The situation is complicated. People need wood from the trees for cooking because we live in an area with hardly any electricity or gas. But when the trees are cut down the soil loses its roots. And when strong rains come, mud slides occur and damage the many houses built in the mountains.
The changing climate is also harming people’s way of life. It has created unpredictable, long periods of drought as well as heavy rains. These are the rains which can cause mud slides. When this happens, people loose part of their land that they can never get back. They cannot use it again to grow vegetables, corn or black beans. These are often the crops people depend on for the rest of the year and when they are gone people are left hungry and in need.
We are trying to conserve 37 communities in the region through our work supported by CAFOD. We are running a mother/child nutrition programme to help 640 children under five who suffer from malnutrition. We are teaching organic farming and encouraging people, especially women, to grow their own vegetable gardens. We want them to learn the skills they need for more environmentally friendly farming. We are also running a campaign around reforestation, using seedlings to encourage people to go and plant trees in the mountains. We try to educate people about the dangers of deforestation. I don’t think the practice will stop completely –at least not in the near future – but it’s important we find a balance between the wood we need, and keeping the forest alive.
To believe in God is to believe He is the Creator of all things. It is not a big leap to think faith is connected to the way we view and interact with the environment. God created the planet for all of us – not more for some and less for others. But the way we live right now is harming the planet God gave us. The changing climate can be linked to human behaviour, especially in richer countries which are heavily industrialised and produce a lot of greenhouse gases.
So the challenge is to think about climate change and the environment, spirituality and religion – all these things – in a more integrated way, and to try and comprehend what is being asked of us.
I’m grateful to all the CAFOD supporters who campaign on these issues and who are committed to the work being done in parishes like mine. Whether as a volunteer or supporter – thank you for all you do. And please keep doing it. It is a powerful way to change the planet and make it a house for everyone.”
- Climate change: it matters on the ground (cafod.org.uk)