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Commentary: “Climate activist helps Catholic Church combat global warming” – NBC2 News

Wow! That’s some title, isn’t it? It’s from a major piece in the February 8, 2021 issue of The New Yorker.

Promised Land is its title, under the rubric of ‘Annals of Geography’ by New Yorker writer of thirty years’ experience, David Owen. It’s a great piece!

Here’s how it begins:

“In the summer of 2016, Molly Burhans, a twenty-six-year-old cartographer and environmentalist from Connecticut, spoke at a Catholic conference in Nairobi, and she took advantage of her modest travel stipend to book her return trip through Rome….she wanted to discuss a project with Vatican officials that she’d been working on for months, documenting the global landholdings of the Catholic Church. To her surprise, she received an appointment in the office of the Secretary of State.”

Burhans, a deeply committed Catholic, told Owen that she was increasingly concerned about climate change and she began to think about how the Catholic Church could be mobilized as a global environmental force. “If the Church were a country, it would be the third most populous, after China and India,” she told Owen.

She concluded that that the Church had the means to address climate change directly, through better land management, and that it could likewise protect vulnerable populations from the consequences of global warming.

Burhans was aware that Pope Francis wrote Laudato Si, a forty thousand word encyclical on reckless consumerism, ecological degradation and global warming in the spring of 2015. In graduate school at the time, she told Owen that “it was the most important documents of the century.”

Huge story follows. This is the tip of the melting iceberg that’s the world. It’s the story of climate change.

What’s my interest, beyond the obvious?

I graduated from Canisius College in 1959. It’s a Jesuit school in Buffalo, NY, that was founded in 1870. When I enrolled in 1955, women were not allowed to attend.

Later, the College admitted women in the day school in the 1960s. When I served as VP for student affairs in the 1970s, there were plenty of women in all divisions of the school doing great work.

Burhans graduated from Canisius College in 2014.

She took advantage, Morris says, of a policy that allowed children of faculty members to study tuition-free. She majored in philosophy, also studying science, mathematics and art. Burhans explains that, while there, she experienced a ‘spiritual awakening.’

Her mother, Debra, is a professor of computer science at Canisius. Her father, William, a researcher in molecular oncology, died in 2019 of prostate cancer, according to Morris.

John J. Hurley has been president of Canisius College for the last 11 years and has done a magnificent job there in a down time for all education.

The rest of the story tells the triumph of Molly Burhans, a woman who realized that the Church had lost track of its vast landholdings and does something about it. She became known at the Vatican as ‘the map lady.’ And she’s nowhere finished with helping the Church!

What a woman!

What a Canisius grad! Three cheers for Molly Burhans and Canisius!

Michael D. Langan is the NBC-2.com Culture Critic. He has written for The BBC, The Dublin Review of Books and numerous U. S. periodicals.

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