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 user 2005-03-22 at 9:19:00 am Views: 83
  • #10974
    Groups Work to Save Rain Forest

    BOGOTA, Colombia  – With
    a sprinkling of holy water, a priest blessed thousands of palm seedlings in a
    ceremony in Bogota’s main park, sealing an unusual Palm Sunday pact between the
    Roman Catholic Church and environmentalists to save a critically endangered

    Thousands of miles
    away, 22 churches in the United States are for the first time using
    environmentally sustainable palm from Guatemala and Mexico for their Palm Sunday
    services this year.

    convergence of religion and ecology is taking root across scattered areas of the
    globe amid heightened environmental awareness among some church leaders. More
    than 300 million palm fronds are harvested each year for U.S. consumption alone
    - most of them for Palm Sunday.

    “Most Christians wake up on a Palm Sunday, look at the
    beautiful greenery but don’t think about where it’s being grown and whether
    forests and people are being affected,” said Glenn Berg-Moberg, pastor of an
    800-member Lutheran church in St. Paul, Minn. “The largest single demand of
    palm fronds is for Palm Sunday, so we feel we need to be responsible in how we
    are treating the forest.”

    The effort in America, promoted
    by the Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the
    Rainforest Alliance in New York, is aimed at protecting the rainforests in
    Guatemala and Mexico whose canopy provides the shade for the shrublike
    chamaedorea palms to grow.

    The plan is to buy certified
    palms from communities using sustainable forestry practices and improve the
    communities’ profit margins, giving them more incentive to protect the
    rainforest instead of clear-cutting it.

    “Someone quipped that this is a
    palm pilot, but we’re really excited about it,” Berg-Moberg said.

    The Colombian initiative has a
    special urgency, because the survival of a species is at stake.

    There are only 540 or so
    yellow-eared parrots left on the planet. They exist only in Colombia. Their sole
    habitat is the wax palm, which grows on the misty flanks of the Andes Mountains
    to heights of 225 feet, making it the world’s tallest palm tree.

    But for centuries, Colombians
    have used the fronds of the wax palm for Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’
    entry into Jerusalem, where residents greeted him by waving palm fronds.

    When Colombian peasants cut off
    the fronds from the young wax palms – Colombia’s national tree – to sell to
    worshippers, the trees die or their growth is stunted. The practice has led to a
    dramatic thinning of the towering palms.

    A top Colombian cleric said it’s
    important for the church to join with environmental groups and government
    agencies to promote use of other palms and save the bright green-and-yellow

    “We have a slogan: God pardons
    always, man pardons sometimes, but nature never does. Every abuse of nature you
    pay for, sooner or later,” said Monsignor Fabian Marulanda, secretary-general
    of the church’s policy-making Episcopal Conference.

    On a sunny, crisp morning in
    Bogota’s sprawling Simon Bolivar Park, the Rev. Alirio Lopez stood before
    hundreds of people holding 6-inch seedlings of the Alexandra palm – an
    alternative to the wax palm – in paper cups. Schoolchildren, joggers, cyclists
    and others streamed into a rotunda in the park to participate.

    “Dear Lord, who created the
    Earth, the waters, the plants and the animals, bless these Alexandra palms,”
    the white-robed Lopez, who flicked holy water onto some of the seedlings, said
    in Friday’s ceremony.

    Thousands of the seedlings are
    being handed out, to be planted for future Palm Sunday observances. Bigger
    fronds of the alternative palms will be available for Palm Sunday services this

    Marulanda said the church
    refrained from joining the campaign earlier because some groups were proposing
    that worshippers display handkerchiefs, corn stalks and an assortment of other
    items instead of palm fronds.

    “There would have been a
    burlesque aspect to it all,” Marulanda said. But the church came on board after
    the use of fronds from other palms was suggested.

    “Maintain the Tradition. Respect
    Nature,” proclaim posters that have been sent to churches nationwide to promote
    the program.

    One of the campaign organizers,
    Luz Mery Cortes of Conservation International, said she does not think all
    Colombians will immediately abandon use of wax palm fronds, which are legally

    “We cannot expect that such a
    strongly held tradition will change overnight,” Cortes said. “But if we don’t
    do something, the wax palm and the yellow-eared parrot will disappear from the