By Gabriella Ceraso
Over 1000 tons of crude oil spilled into a natural paradise of precious biodiversity. It caused damage to the economy, the environment and society in Mauritius island, where most of the population lives on fishing and tourism, and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.
This is the picture of what remains of the Indian Ocean island just over a month after the incident that saw the Japanese tanker MV Wakashio, with 3,800 tons of fuel and 200 tons of diesel on board, run aground in Pointe d'Esny, a protected area near the Blue Bay marine park. In the wake of this disaster, which required the intervention of specialists from various parts of the world, the Cardinal Maurice Piat, the Bishop of the Mauritian capital of Port-Louis, urged everyone to “reawaken,” animated by a "good ecological conscience".
His call was echoed during the Sunday Angelus when Pope Francis made an appeal for the island, which, with a series of initiatives involving young people in particular, is preparing to mark the long Season of Creation from September 1 to October 4, in response to the Pope's call to engage in prayer and action in defense of our common home.
In an interview, Cardinal Piat spoke to Gabriella Ceraso of Vatican News about the educational and social activities being carried out by the Church to raise awareness about care for the environment.
Cardinal Maurice Piat: For many months during the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a group of religious that has been very committed to ecology and the defense of Creation and to promoting practices that are truly respectful of Creation and the environment. This concert is part of a series of concerts, organized in different parts of the island. It was held at the Cathedral, organized by young people, some of whom are strongly committed to activities such as organic farming that aims at food self-sufficiency, since here on the island we depend mostly on imported foods for our nourishment. In reaction to this situation, we want to promote activities that teach young people different food cultures and practices.
We have also started the great task of raising awareness against, for example, disposable plastic objects that end up in our seas and beaches. In Mauritius, for example, we produce about 100 million plastic bottles per year - a huge amount. We also want to push the government to legislate on the use of plastic, which is becoming a major threat to the country and the sea. This is also why we had this concert. In all, there will be six musical events combined with the promotion that is already being done in Catholic schools regarding ecological education, education in respect for vegetation, the judicious use of water without waste, and the promotion of a new way of acting.
Vatican News: The Pope has kept the island of Mauritius in mind and has spoken about it to the whole world. What effect did his words have among you?
CMP: We are very grateful to the Pope for having spoken about the island of Mauritius and the great ecological disaster that occurred in one of the most beautiful lagoons in the south because of the oil spill of the ship that ran aground on the coral reef. Mauritians have worked very hard, voluntarily and generously to try to clean up the area, but, unfortunately, great damage has been done and the lives of the fishermen living on the coast are totally disrupted because they are all linked to the sea. Also, the life of the people who live on the island is disrupted, because there is a stench that makes them uncomfortable. We are very sad and many people are upset because the ship was allowed to get so close and nobody reacted immediately. During the Island’s patron saint's feast day, there was a moment of common prayer about what happened and of entrusting ourselves (to God), invoking His protection upon our country.
VN: What is the current situation, is there any hope that activities can slowly resume?
CMP: Fishing and tourism will resume, but it will take 45 years for the land to regenerate. In the meantime, the tourism and fishing industry will be on hold, and here, many families depend on these sectors. It is really a great test for the country and many families in this part of the island.
VN: What message or appeal do you want to make from Mauritius to Christians for this long period that begins on 1 September, which is dedicated to our neighbors and Creation?
CMP: I would like to say that today, everywhere in the world, we have the great responsibility before God, as the Pope himself says, to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Here, our lagoon, our land, our sea, cried out when there was that oil spill that damaged much of the territory. We realized, on a small scale and in a very difficult way, the damage that failure to respect creation can bring. We, therefore, make a great appeal, so that wherever we are, we change not only our way of acting, but also our way of thinking and of being attentive to this great gift of God that is our common home.