I once planted mangrove trees in the ocean, just off the coast of a little fishing village called Sitio Rodriguez in the Philippines, as a student in the Casa Bayanihan program. To plant a mangrove, you must drive a rod deep into the sandbank and lay the bulb down. It is not easy, and the bulbs are not guaranteed to sprout. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, mangroves serve as important nurseries for a variety of fish, are a valuable source of timber, and provide stabilization to coastlines from waves and erosions. Yet the mangrove population near Sitio Rodriguez had been decimated by over and illegal fishing, farming, and pollution.
I was struck in today’s readings by the emphasis on water. In the first reading, Ezekiel is led by an angel into the waters that flowed from the temple. When he was deep enough into the water that he could no longer cross, the angel brought him to the river bank. The angel spoke of the creatures and fish that live and multiply by the water and the trees whose leaves will not fade nor their fruit fall.
There is power and there is healing in water. Yet we treat such a precious resource like a dumping ground. As I was planting mangroves bulbs, plastic bags, cigarette butts, and food wrappers would float by as if they were the fish meant to live there. As Pope Francis reminds us, environmental degradation affects the most vulnerable and marginalized. The community of Sitio Rodriguez relies on the ocean as a source of food and income, using the fish they catch to sell in the streets to make some means of income. Yet the loss of mangroves means the loss of fish and leaves the community vulnerable to the devastating effects of typhoons. Can we imagine the world the angel showed Ezekiel in which “wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh?” Can we imagine once more a world where we reverence the life that comes from water?
Teresa Marie Cariño Petersen is an educator and activist particularly interested in racial justice and embodiment. She currently works as a campus ministry teacher at Sacred Heart Prep, Atherton where she teaches social ethics and coordinates the immersion program. She credits her faith that does justice formation to ISN and is an alum of St. Ignatius (San Francisco), the University of San Francisco, and (soon to be) Jesuit School of Theology. She also served as a Jesuit Volunteer in New York City 13’-14’ and worked at two Jesuit parishes. Teresa also serves on the board of the National Catholic Reporter.
Find her on Instagram @teresamariecarino