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ARC Home > Projects > Sacred gifts :
Columbia River

CANADA AND USA: Catholic Leaders speak out for Columbia River Conservation

"The Word spoke of water as living and flowing;
the grace of the Spirit called all to be one:
a sharing of goods and a life of compassion
a way to see all as our neighbors to love."

~ "Riversong" excerpt from the International Pastoral Letter: Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good by Catholic Bishops of the Northwest.

Update: November, 2010

"A great singing river through Celilo splashed down called first by first peoples, Che Wana, Great River, and then called Columbia, the West’s mighty river..." - "Riversong."
The conservation of the cherished Columbia River continues to be an inspiration for the Washington State Catholic Conference. Bishop Skylstad, recently retired from the Diocese of Spokane, gives regular talks and presentations on ecology, using the Columbia River project as a case study. The Pastoral newsletter dedicated to the cause (link below) still raises awareness and has reached beyond the USA, with frequent requests for copies from individuals and organisations across the world. The University of Portland regularly benefits from the information in this valuable resource in their innovative environmental classes. Information and copies of the Pastoral Letter may be obtained from the Washington State Catholic Conference.

In 1999 two archbishops and six bishops representing 1.5 million Catholics in Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, and British Columbia, called for urgent action to stop the degradation of the 1,200-mile-long Columbia River.

“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
After extensive consultation with scientists, policy-makers, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, theologians and others they developed a five-year strategy designed to bring together all the key stakeholders along the river to tackle major problems including pollution, spread of alien species and destruction of wildlife habitats.

The initiative was published as a Pastoral Letter: a rare and authoritative document issued by the Catholic Church to promote “dialogue, reflection and action for the common good”. (download the letter as a pdf document)

Its writers described the river 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.”

The deteriorating ecological health of the Columbia River is of growing concern to many people, especially to the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods. It runs through agricultural areas, wilderness and wildlife sanctuaries, city centres and Native American lands. Industry along the river includes mining, fish factories, a nuclear weapons depot and chemical and manufacturing plants.

Read more at the Columbia River Pastoral Letter website:

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What is a Sacred Gift?
Every religion believes the gift of life itself is sacred. This shared understanding led WWF and ARC to create a special term of recognition for significant new projects.