Reflections from Sister Virginia Marie and Sister Margo on the Global Climate Summit in San Francisco Sept 12-14

Reflection from Sister Virginia Marie Rincon on the Global Climate Summit in San Francisco.

I remember as we waited to enter Grace Cathedral how my heart was beating so fast and at the same time feeling an overwhelming sense of peace that we, the indigenous people, were no longer invisible, at least for that glorious moment.  I had been asked by Bishop Marc Andrus of the Diocese of Northern California and who is also the Bishop Visitor for our community, St. Hildegard,  to open the Global Climate worship event with the sacred ceremony of the Four Directions.  I along with three other participants were at the front of a long procession that maybe took 20 minutes altogether to enter the beautiful and majestic Grace Cathedral. Our goal was to  position ourselves in front of it’s beautiful altar. As i started the procession, I held my breath for a moment and slowly breathed into the drum the energy of love and unity and then I lifted the mallet and gave it my all to open the ceremony with the first beat of the drum. I could feel the sound of the drum bouncing off the beautiful historical murals of the ancestors along the cathedral walls and as i looked up I could see the stained glass windows sharing their radiant light onto the pews of people. I paced the drum beat to every 5 seconds and with every step forward I envisioned us all, feeling the vibration of peace and tranquility.  I found myself thanking God and Mother Earth for this special call to the sharing of my drumming in such an auspicious event.  Once reaching the altar, hundreds of people followed the instructions to face the called direction.  With every direction, east, west, north and south you could feel the energy shifting to a place of the cosmic knowing.  There was a coming together in motion.  A St. Hildegard quote expresses it better:  ”Holy Wisdom, Soaring Power, encompass us with wings unfurled, and carry us, encircling all, above, below, and through the world.“ I ended the directions with the Heart direction; Spirit of the heart we give thanks for each other and especially this community.  May we remember to rise up as one for the good of all in need.  And may our hearts remain open to the moments in our lives where we learn from our struggles, where we learn from each other and where we learn from the Creator of all good things. “Ometeotl”  This experience was truly transformative and life giving.

The following day sister Margo and i attended a couple of workshops one of which was called “Confronting Christian Complicity with Climate Genocide.” The workshop began with the presenters asking the following questions:  What is the role of our Christian history in this current planetary crisis? and What responsibility and obligations drive us as faithful persons to transform this legacy of oppression, violence and genocide? Their process of answering the questions included a chronological time line that included oppressive wars, slave trade information, and treaties that contributed to our current crisis.  The discussion on the Manifest Destiny Treaty, in particular really affirmed and served as a reality check for me as a woman of color of Mexican and Native descent.  The treaty included a belief in the inherent superiority of white European-Americans, as well as the conviction that whites were destined by God to conquer the territories of North America, from sea to shining sea.  Hence, creating an invisibility of Native American ceremonies and traditions in the care of mother earth. The workshop didn’t last long enough and we left with the desire for more conversations on this particular workshop.  The other workshop covered a discussion on our commitments to work together on the issue of climate change. We broke into groups and we each filled out a card with a commitment to save the planet.  My commitment included gaining more knowledge on recycling and gardening.   We were also given 10 ways to change the world: Living Simply, Being unlimited, Opening the Heart, Respecting Life, Being positive, Walking the Talk, Empowering Yourself, Eating Well, Following Your Dream, and Feeding the Soul

It was an honor to represent our community at this incredible gathering of faithful people desiring to learn, and grow on the issue of Global Climate Change and it’s impact on Mother Earth.

   Sister Margo’s Report onThe Global Climate Summit

Sister Rev. Virginia Marie Rincon and Sister Margo Stolfo were at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco to participate in the Global Climate Summit, a gathering of leaders of and within five world faith organizations: Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim.  The event was organized and hosted by the Episcopal Church of North America through the Diocese of Northern California.  The Bishop of Northern California, Marc Andrus, who has attended UN Climate Summits, stood at Standing Rock to support the preservation of Native Sacred Land from construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and who is a member of We Are Still In, a growing organization of citizens, mayors, governors, business owners and leaders of faith organizations commited to upholding the commitments of the Paris Climate Accord, along with the staff of DioCal led the Global Climate Summit to gather Faith organizations at a summit alongside California Governor Gerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit September 12-14. Sister Virginia Marie was asked to open the procession with the sacred ceremony of  the four directions for the global climate worship service at Grace Cathedral.  Along with her there were representatives of the Inca in South America and the Ohlone of San Francisco.  

Sister Margo:  It was a wonderful experience to be with VM as a support and companion on this trip to make commitments.  Memories of the day are full of joy in feeling VM’s presence as she navigated all the tasks and interactions before the procession.  In the moment that she struck her drum and took her place leading us through the vaulting, color filled space, I felt the sensation of being part of bringing beneficial change to the imbalance brought by our human impact on the Earth communities.  As we walked forward the feeling grew larger.  Behind us came other indigenous groups from different parts of the world.  I especially remember the Kogi representatives from the rainforests of South America.  Virginia Marie had wished we had a Caricol, a nautilus shell, and members of this delegation had one.  It was a joy to hear its ancient call as we left the celebration three hours later!  The elder of the Kogi kneeled as he reached the altar, which brought home to my mind and heart the humble side of humanity, our acknowledgement of gratitude to all that Mother Earth is in our lives and the role that faith brings to hold our consciousness to the mystery and beauty that needs our protection. The first class we attended Thursday morning at the Cathedral was called Living the Change.  It was about a methodology for having meaningful conversation with others in an effort to vision realistic personal commitments to lessen our own negative effect on the climate and environment. One woman introducing the topic spoke of her relationship to the world from her Buddhist perspective.  She spoke of the Buddhist concept of interbeing, which includes the understanding that the harm we do to the environment, we do to ourselves.  Being aware, knowing the tremendous risk our actions have brought to life on the planet is key to our time. Through maintaining this awareness, we develop a quivering heart, which stays in contact with compassion for our fragile, endangered biosphere.  This leads us to the razor edge where we find vulnerable stability, the maintaining of our humanity. Could this be the very challenge that we need for our human evolution?  We broke into small groups after the introduction, and spoke of what we felt we could reasonably commit to as far as changing our actions to do less harm to the climate and environment.  One person I remember in this small group is on the task force for the care of the environment with the World Council of Churches.  One ofthe issues that members of the group struggles with is how to travel to conferences while taking into account the amount of pollution that jet travel contributes to the air as opposed to the emissions from a shorter distance traveled by car or the lack of emissions resulting from meeting via internet.  My own commitment is to build a home using natural materials that are sustainably acquired and are as local as possible as well as installing solar power, grey water recycling and on site composting.Their website:

The next class, Confronting Complicity was given by an order of Catholic nuns in San Francisco, the Society of the Sacred Heart.  They researched the origin of the indigenous genocide in the Americas and found that a Papal Bull written in 1493 was a huge contributer to the empowerment of the explorers, colonizers and frontiersmen who entered these lands which belonged to indigenous civilizations.  It declared among other things that Explorers could place a flag on land they discovered.  This flag representing a Christian nation insured that from that moment on the land was for Christians.  Any non- Christian could no longer own land and was denied any rights.  From this point their research continued and they found many instances in which the wording and priviledge that was insured by the Papal Bull was maintained throughout the history of the USA in laws and actions. It is this order’s mission to bring these unspoken laws and concealed motives to light and start a movement for healing the pain and damage that the people who came to this New Land inflicted on the Natives who had lived in and protected these natural systems for thousands of years.  This was a powerful presentation, and the women are my heroes.  I am very grateful for their work.    Society of the Sacred Heart Committee on Slavery, Accountability and Reconciliation is working to heal the injustice of their own society’s past participation in the owning of slaves.

I was able to attend another class on Friday afternoon, The Christian Imperative to Protect the Forests.  In this class, I learned that the National Forestry Service is a for profit institution, selling off the timber and not practicing regenerative actions to restore forests destroyed by fire.  Some of the facts were presented by Chad Hanson Phd, who is a director of the Sierra Club.  He discovered the practices of the National Forest Service while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.  When he and his two companions reached the Sierra Nevadas they realized that they were often diverted off of trails by signs posted by the National Forest Service.  The sign would offer a detour and state that the trail had been destroyed by a landslide. It was very puzzling, because the trails also went by water sources and camping spots.  The detours were not planned for campers and offered no services. One day they saw in the distance two hikers writing on yet another sign announcing a detour.  As soon as the hikers saw Chad and his companions watching them, they ran off.  Chad and company pursued the graffiti hikers and when they caught up with them found out that they were National Forest Service employees.  They had written on the detour sign,  “This is a scam.  There is no landslide.  The forest service doesn’t want hikers to see that they are allowing clear cutting here.” A discussion revealed that these employees did not agree with the forest service practices, but were trying to effect change from within.  This is still the case today.  Most employees want to serve the forests for the greater good of everyone, not just the forest industry.  However, the U.S. logs more than any country in the world.  If we ended logging in the National Forests alone, we would cut out emissions equal to the emissions of a billion cars.  Logging nationally and globally is the second largest source of CO2 emissions.  There are so many things that the National Forest Service could do to mitigate the harm caused by the pollution and destruction of our natural systems, yet the priorities the top officers have are increasing the destruction of our environment at a catastrophic rate! Another man who spoke in this class, Fred Krueger works for an interfaith program which supports communities in Central America and provides them with a way of reforesting their homeland.  The reforestation is necessary because of the destruction of rain forests to provide pasture for cattle purchased by fast food chains in the U.S.The pasture grass only grows for two seasons before being overwhelmed by invasive species and abandoned by cattle ranchers. Contributing to this organization keeps this restorative work going which increases the number of trees growing and sequestering Carbon Dioxide. If interested in joining these tree stewards:  See the Sierra Club website and find out which National Forest legislation you can support by wrtiting your Senator or Congressperson.

Mail the Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation P. O. Box 7348 Santa Rosa, CA 95407 to request forms for donating to tree planting in Central America.

Bishop Marc’s wife Sheila has developed an online tool for committing to action to clean up our environment and slow climate change.  40% of the emissions are created by us, individuals, just being unaware of the impact on the environment brought about by our daily activities. Advocacy for Climate Solutions  

The awareness of faith groups is that the commitment to take action to slow down and reverse climate change is common among people of all faiths.  It was heartening for me to be part of this gathering and be lifted by the realization that when governments fail to act to remedy climate change others take up the cause.  Faith groups, state governors, mayors of cities, leaders of corporations and educational institutions gathered in the same time and place to take up the work that our federal government is no longer supporting.  There is hope.