|Wangari Maathai 2006|
The Inspiration of Wangari Maathai
In my first spring at Sacred Heart in 1975, nothing blossomed. No birds sang because we had no trees except one thin blue spruce. At Eastertime, 1975, we planted a Norwegian maple near the church which is magnificent today. Over 40 years, trees were planted around Sacred Heart and along the streets of Waterfront South. Two berms were created and planted around industrial areas and the local CCMUA planted many trees around its facility. Five years ago, I counted a thousand trees in Waterfront South. Today the birds are gladly singing in their wooden choir lofts with branches everywhere. They need trees.
In mid-October, 2006, when leaves are glorious, I met Wangari Maathai in Philadelphia and felt that I was embraced by the beautiful feminine Mother Earth.
Wangari Maathai, born near Nyeri, Kenya on April 1, 1940, was educated and inspired by the Irish nuns at Loretta Girls High School in Kenya. She graduated in 1959 and due to the Student Airlift from Africa supported by the Kennedy family, she was educated in the U.S. She obtained a degree in biological sciences at St. Scholastica College in Acheson, Kansas in 1964, a Master’s degree in science from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and a PhD from the University of Nairobi in 1971.
In 1977 she organized the Greenbelt Movement with thousands of women who planted more than 45 million trees. Our thousand in Waterfront South is a little leaf in a huge forest, but we surely pleasing to Wangari. Her friend and Yale student Carrie Magee Sargeant became a certified tree expert while employed here at the Heart of Camden.
Wangari says, “Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.”
Wangari did much more than talking, for which she became a greatly respected woman in this world, honored with 58 prestigious awards from 11 countries and “crowned” with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
Sacred Heart church has endeavored to promote reverence for matter in God’s creation. We all are matter. In our church, bread and wine, water and oil, are sacramental connections to God. Consequently, we are ritually and reverently connected with the earth.
Wangari would like that the Sacred Heart convent that housed nuns here for 60 years is today the Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET). She says: “If the outer environment is sick, then we become sick, not only physically because we are drinking impure water or breathing impure air, but because we are psychologically and spiritually diminished.”
Now the air in Waterfront South is assaulted by deadly exhaust of idling diesel trucks, especially on Ferry Avenue, close to the CFET and our school. Wangari tells us that people need to be empowered to tackle that which is hurting them environmentally. They need knowledge and they need organization. We need to clear the air by getting the trucks off Ferry Avenue again.
We also need the inspiration of Wangari Maathai, who died of cancer on September 25, 2011 at age 71. Eternal peace to her.
I think we should create a shrine for her at the CFET facility.