Black sand mining topbills start of synodal process in northern Philippine parish

November 2, 2021

A Catholic parish in the northern Philippine province of Cagayan opened its synodal process with a discussion on the impact of black sand mining on the community.

Lay people, especially representatives of the fishing community, raised concerns regarding the state of the environment in the province during the consultations at San Pedro Telmo Parish in the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.

Community leader Ricardo Umoso said consultations between the people and church leaders “is a vital element in advancing the campaign against black sand mining.”

He said black sand mining in the Cagayan River and the Philippine Sea destroys the marine ecosystem that is the main source of livelihood of at least 11,000 fisherfolk in Aparri town.

The parish gathered at least 100 fisherfolk and several lay leaders from its 72 basic ecclesial communities to consolidate testimonies and come up with campaign plans.

Mayor Bryan Dale Chan of Aparri lauded the parish’s initiative to conduct consultations, describing it as “a start of a broader network to fight plunderers of our natural resources.”

Chan said he sought the collaboration of the parish to help him unite the people of the town in advancing the campaign against black sand mining. 

He said he will issue an executive order that will create a “multi-stakeholder resource committee” that will look into the “protection, management, and conservation” of the Cagayan River.

The role of the Catholic Church and “how it should respond” to the needs of the community affected by black sand mining were also discussed during the consultations.

Father Manuel Vicente Catral said it is the “responsibility of the Church to listen to the cry of the people.”

The priest, however, said that the Church “should not only listen but act on how to improve the lives of its people and protect the environment.”

“The purpose of the synodal process is not just to gather experiences of synodality within the Church but to remind the entire Catholic community, especially its leaders, that the voice of the poor must always be at the center of the ministries,” he said.

The synod on synodality, a two-year global undertaking launched by Pope Francis last month, urges the faithful to raise issues that concern the community to church leaders.

Father Catral said the “bottom-up approach” has been always the method of the parish in addressing various concerns, including ecological issues.

“Before the parish responds to any issue, it listens first to the people,” said the priest. “It is the laity who always tells us what to do. We only facilitate and provide the resources,” he said.

Father Catral said the parish will hold consultations in every sector of the parish community, adding that the synod on synodality “should not only teach us on how to listen but motivate us to discern.”

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