By TIM FAILKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Pope Francis may not be visiting Rhode Island, but one Catholic activist is trying to spread the pontiff's environmental message through peaceful protest.
Sister Mary Pendergast, the ecology director with the Cumberland branch of Sisters of Mercy, an international social service, education and activist organization, is one of a dozen or so Rhode Island protesters participating in a nationwide fast to stop fossil-fuel expansion.
“I love him,” Pendergast said of the pope. “I just hope (his environmental message) resonates with people.”
That message comes from a papal letter released in June that backs the science behind climate change and makes the moral case for cleaning up the planet, which the pope described as “beginning to look more and more as an immense pile of filth.”
Pendergast and other activists staged a rally outside the Statehouse on Sept. 22 to urge state officials to halt local fossil-fuel projects, such as a proposed natural-gas power plant in Burrillville and a liquefied natural gas project on the Providence waterfront.
Pendergast held signs that read: “Praise Be Mother Earth” and “Love, not profits, not oil spills.” She was on her second day of three-day fast that consisted of water and the occasional bouillon soup. “It’s tough,” she said.
Her fellow activists are holding a series of daytime fasts without food and water to coincide with a larger hunger strike in Washington, D.C.
The 18-day fast began Sept. 8 outside the headquarters of the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC). Protesters hope to stop FERC from issuing permits for the many natural-gas infrastructure projects that have been proposed nationwide. Earlier this year, FERC approved the massive expansion of a natural-gas compressor station in Burrillville.
The FERC protest was planned to coincide with Pope Francis' visit to Washington and to show support for his call that world leaders address the impacts of climate change, especially the impact on the poor. The fast will end when the pope leaves Washington on Sept. 25. The Rhode Island protest ended Sept. 24, with a prayer vigil at the Statehouse.
Pendergast said the pope's message to Congress was about integral ecology: Care of the Earth and care for people who are poor and building a culture of care for the common good.
“The environmental crisis affects everyone," she said. "We need to be courageous and responsible, to redirect our steps to attend to the environmental issues caused by human activity. And that now is the time for action."
The Rhode Island protesters included URI physics professor Peter Nightingale, who has been arrested twice this year for peaceful protests, most recently for locking himself to the gate of the compressor station where the expansion project is underway.
“The Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts have been captured by industry, and FERC, implementing twisted statutes, is the excuse the ruling elites use to continue the devastation,” Nightingale wrote in his online profile for Beyond Extreme Energy, the organizer of the nationwide hunger strike.