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Mrs Maria Becket

In earlier ages, people living on the banks of the Danube
were fearful of the fast flowing, unimpeded waters that brought
floods, waves, and rocks: their houses faced away from the
river, as though turning their backs on the powerful, sweeping
force. When the river began to be tamed by two large dams
in the mid-19th century, Johann Strauss composed the famous
Blue Danube Waltz with a spirit of exuberance and lightness,
rather than fear. Today, the river has lost any hint of wildness,
its flow imprisoned by a sequence of dams and channels that
contain its entire length of 2,400 kilometres, apart from
80 kilometres that flow freely.

As humans, we both care for and destroy our environment.
The monks of the Niederaltaich monastery on the banks of the
Danube care for their environment with such love and respect
that they inspire people in surrounding villages to do the
same in their day-to-day use of resources. At the same time,
they challenge policies and plans that will adversely affect
the Danube. They have taken a strong position in opposing
the plan to connect the river Rhine with the Danube, as they
believe this will further damage an already embattled river.
They are committed to protecting the 80 kilometres of free
flow along the river and their concern has moved communities
and organisations along the Danube to take action too.

An important element of this presentation was to bring people
together, organise events and share information that would
inspire and help people concerned with caring for the Danube.
This was contrasted with reminders and evidence of the cruelty
and belligerence of human nature, from the concentration camp
at Mauthausen to the bombed bridges at Novi Sad. Understanding
the choice that people have to do good or cause harm informs
the content of this chapter. The contributors provide a conceptual
framework that helps us reflect on what could be as much as
what is.

Dr Vladan Perishich spoke of the responsibilities
of contemporary science in relation to the environment. He
identified the philosophical and metaphysical convictions
that underpin all scientific theories, even though they are
not explicitly named: the presupposition of contemporary science
is the lack of a sacred view of nature, and its conviction
is that things can be understood without any connection with
God. This is the greatest sin of modern man - his belief that
he can be man without any relation with God. Modern science
can no longer be the starting point when caring for the environment,
for without God, everything is permissible. Instead, creation
should be seen as the field in which one can discover the
dynamic energies of God. Man's responsibility for saving the
whole of creation is enormous and decisive, something that
is built into his very being. God gave the world to man "to
till it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15), and not to neglect
it by indifference or exploit it because of greed. By conferring
creation into man's care, God counted on man's sense of freedom
and responsibility to care for His creation.

Sister Marjorie Keenan, within the specific framework
of the social teaching of the Catholic Church, also presented
that a person is entrusted with the care of all that is on
earth, is capable of consciously transforming creation, and
is responsible for his or her actions in this regard, whether
acting individually or together as a society. Sister Marjorie
eloquently set out the challenges of our modern world - the
huge divide between rich and poor, over-consumption contrasted
with severe malnutrition, rapid change, the breakdown of traditional
systems that provide support to communities - and questions
whether each of us is prepared to face the immense task of
bringing dignity and equitability to all people. She said:

When we seek the good of the other, slowly and patiently
working for peace among peoples, for reconciliation among
warring groups, for the overcoming of divisions, we are
seeking to restore those harmonious relations among all
peoples that were willed by God at the very beginning of
creation.

The situation of children is particularly tragic. Ole
Espersen highlighted the lack of laws to prohibit children
from being used as soldiers - at present between 200,000 and
300,000 children are enlisted in armies all over the world.
Children are especially vulnerable to harm from land mines,
whether through their free-ranging play or because they are
used as scouts due to their lighter body weight. The 1997
convention prohibiting the production, storage and sale of
land mines has been ratified by 87 countries out of 189. Some
important countries in Europe and in the rest of the world
have not yet signed up to it, including Turkey, the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia and, indeed, the United States. Ole
Espersen raised the issue of exposure to violence in the media
for children who lack proper parental care. Research has proved
that watching violence affects the minds of children and that
exposing children to large amounts of violence can make them
criminals. The fact that children are without any protection
in this area is clearly a violation of the Convention on the
Rights of the Child and is also an area where politicians
fail to take any action.

In the final presentation, The Right Revd Bishop Mauro
Morelli drew attention to the nature and scale of the
"undeclared war" that is being implemented worldwide
by the neo-liberal global economy, "an economic system
and model of development that has neither soul nor boundaries".
In his own diocese, more than 15,000 people have been killed.
The Brazilian people are suffering the plagues and curses
of a model of development that spoils the earth, concentrates
wealth, and produces starvation and social exclusion on a
scale never known before. They are not alone. According to
the 1996 Food Summit, 800 million human beings will be starving
by the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Although
there may have been a little improvement in some countries,
hunger continues to grow and is a direct result of increased
poverty. The establishment of Food Security Councils is the
Brazilian commitment to solving this problem by engaging all
sectors of society in practical activities. Bishop Morelli
concluded:

Only by offering a real guarantee of daily access to good
food to every one of us, starting with children, the sick
and the elderly, will we see the dawn of a new day without
the wars and plagues that afflict nature and our human family.

Presentations
Security and the environment (Professor Dr Vladan Perishich)
Ethical values of common concern (Sister Marjorie Keenan)
Children's rights (Professor Ole Espersen)
Life with dignity and hope (The Right Revd Bishop Mauro Morelli)

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