Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA
In the crowded metropolis of Los Angeles sprawling developments and highways have contributed to many problems including: diminished amount of green space and undeveloped land, spiraling costs of housing (making it unaffordable to low-income residents and increasing the number of poor working families), stressed natural resources, and fragmented government structures and services such as health care, education, and other social services. With these and other serious environmental issues facing Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, spiritual leader of more than three million Catholics in the area, began to build a vision.
The first step in fulfilling his vision was to initiate dialogue among major stakeholders around particular issues of environmental and economic equity in the area, especially the issue of sprawl. Cardinal Mahony held meetings with many influential members of the community, including the chairman of SunAmerica, the executive secretary of the LA County AFL-CIO and the co-director of The Advancement Project (a group concerned with racial equity in the region), to discuss regional environmental and economic justice concerns. The archdiocese also convened a symposium to discuss the economic divide in the region and the many sprawl related questions such as land use, green space preservation, housing affordability and air pollution, in partnership with the University of Southern California in the University’s ongoing analysis of the impacts of sprawl on the metropolitan area.
In addition, the Archdiocesan Office of Peace and Justice trained Catholic leaders around the region on economic equity, sprawl and associated environmental issues in light of Catholic social teaching. The project and training events helped build a basis for a newly developing legislative network to engage Catholics throughout the region in advocacy on the part of the poor, the environment, and other key concerns of the church. Flowing directly from the mission of the Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission, a school curriculum on environment and sprawl issues was developed which focused on poverty, pollution, and participation. This important effort to clearly link justice and the environment has been made available to over 300 public high schools in the area. Two Catholic high schools in the Los Angeles area, and with the inspiration of the environmental awareness curriculum, identified concrete issues within their own communities that link environment and justice. As they gathered information about which issues strike the deepest chord, they came up with innovative, community-based solutions to address the problem.
The possibility of a pastoral letter on environmental justice in Southern California continues to be discussed among members of the Peace and Justice Commission. They envision a process that identifies concrete issues that clearly demonstrated the relationship between social and economic justice and the environment, facilitates listening sessions in each of the five pastoral regions throughout the Archdiocese to hear the lived experience of the diverse communities around these issues and involves the production of a pastoral letter that contains specific public policy recommendations to respond to the ethical dimensions of the regional environmental justice issues facing Southern California. The Commission believes that this process is as important, if not more important, than the product. The listening session process will promote broad institutional engagement, as well as build a constituency around environmental justice issues. The product will connect Catholic social teaching to these issues and will inform and influence the public policy debate. The pastoral letter should have a positive impact on ensuring that the poorest members of the community do not suffer disproportionately from congestion, pollution, unemployment, lack of recreational opportunities, and segregation.
- Read an address by Cardinal Roger Mahony, "In Search of the Common Good: The Los Angeles Region in the Third Millennium."