The Catholic Bishops of North East India pledged to fight climate change in the region and to care for ‘God’s creation’ at the Annual Regional Pastoral Conference held between September 12 and 15 at the Jubilee Memorial Hall of North East Diocesan Social Service Society, Guwahati. 

Introducing the theme of the conference, ‘Climate Change in North East India and Care for God’s Creation’, the secretary general of North East India Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC) and the Bishop of Kohima diocese, James Thoppil, said, “One part of the country is going through severe drought and other part experiencing a flood. This is happening because of our greed and the kinds of choices we have made.”

The annual conference, held after a gap of two years due to the pandemic, was attended by over 150 participants from all the fifteen dioceses of North East India.

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Reminding the participants of the grim reality of climate change in the world and the northeast region, in particular, the President of NEIRBC and the Archbishop of Guwahati, John Moolachira highlighted, “As a young priest, I used to travel through dense forests to reach some of our centres. Now, after 35-40 years, when I travel through the same roads, there is no trace of a forest. Settlements have sprung up. Timber is cut off and sold outside the region by unscrupulous elements with either the connivance or negligence of government machinery.”

As a result of this, the hills and plains have become barren and rivulets dried up, and rains have become either too much or too little. When it rains, the fertile soils are washed away due to flood, garbage is everywhere and life in towns is unhygienic, pollutants in the cities and towns flow freely into the rivers and waterways, pesticides and fertilizers are used widely and the water in the rivers has become dangerous for use by man, birds, fish and animals.

Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural function, Bishop Allwyn D’Silva, Auxiliary Bishop from Bombay Archdiocese, exhorted the participants to enliven the faith through the restoration of ecological relationships.

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“We can see and are living through a time of increasing crisis of humanity. The reality of North East India is proof of the dangerous climate change reality in the country. We can ill afford to disregard this ecological crisis and climate change.” 

Attended by thirteen Bishops of the region, the four-day animation included a presentation of scientific papers, panel discussion, group discussion and reporting on topics pertinent to the theme of the conference. 

Professor Abani Kumar Bhagabati from Guwahati University presented a paper on the environmental issues and challenges in North East India and Professor Vincent T Darlong, Agricultural Scientist from Martin Luther Christian University, Shillong, spoke of pathways to conservation and caring for Mother Earth.

Dr Mukesh K. Srivastava, Assistant Professor at National Institute of Rural Development, Guwahati, dealt with soil and water conservation in North East India and Dr Ujjal Deka Baruah from the Dept of Geography, Cotton University, Guwahati highlighted the phenomenon of recurring floods and landslides in the region, their causes and preventive measures. Prof Lukose P. J from Assam Don Bosco University, Guwahati presented a vision for the church to tackle the climate crisis in the region. 

To understand the role and responsibility of the church to address the concerns arising from climate change, papers were presented by environmentalists from the region. 

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Father Robert Athickal from the Society of Jesus (SJ), Director of Tarumitra Bio-reserve, highlighted the significance of Laudato Si for North East India and the need for an eco-spirituality for our times. Father Andrew Xavier SDB, Green Promotor of Dimapur Salesian Province, presented practical tips for early habit formation in green living. 

In the panel discussion on the theme of the conference, Fathers Chacko Karinthayal, Director of Shalom Centre at Dimapur, John Paranmimalil SDB, Director of Don Bosco Institute in Guwahati, Jose Kuzhikkattuthaze SVD, Director of Sanskrit-North East Institute for Cultural Research in Guwahati and Walter Fernandes SJ, Director of North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati, discussed climate change and response from the perspective of the pastoral apostolate, educational apostolate, social apostolate and from the perspective of the indigenous community. 

During the evaluation towards the end of the conference, all participants expressed satisfaction over the outcome of the deliberations. Sister Provincial of RNDM Shillong province, Baiahunglang Nongklaw, said: “I am so happy to be a part of such an enlightening conference. I will try to ensure that the learnings from this conference are implemented in our communities”.

Father Deli Kapani, Salesian, Novice Master from Nagaland, said, “I go back to my workplace as an enlightened person. This conference has made me look at the Creation and climate change in a different light. It is time for action now.” 

We hope we take with us what we have learned from this important conference that has relevance not just for North East India but to the whole world, said Bishop John Thomas of Itanagar Diocese. Quoting the words of Pope Francis, he exhorted everyone, “As we pledge to protect God’s creation, let us be protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

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