Catholic bishop spreads eco-friendly ways in Mumbai

Bishop D’Silva is setting an example for followers of all religions

By Badri Chatterjee

Thane: An ancient church in Mumbai has shown the most energy efficient way to pray. The 500-year-old St John the Baptist Church at Thane uses a large fan that cuts electricity consumption by 30 percent and cools an estimated 1,000 people who attend Mass on Sundays.

The giant fan — equivalent to 10 household fans – was installed by Auxiliary Bishop Allwyn D’Silva of Bombay who is also the pastor and manager of a school attached to the church.

The fan was among a number of environment friendly initiatives the 68-year-old prelate has set up in the church. They ranged from solar power, rain water harvesting, recycling organic waste to installing LED lights at the church grounds.

Over the past two decades, the prelate has tried to reduce the impact of global warming through several awareness initiatives, environmental education at schools and published academic papers to make the parish eco-friendly. He heads the Archdiocesan Office for Environment, and secretary for the Federation of Asian Bishops Climate Change Desk. He was ordained a bishop on January 28 this year.

“Climate change is rooted in faith, because to care for creation is to manifest one’s love for the creator. The more we care for creation, the more spiritual we become,” the bishop told The Hindustan Times. “Uncertainty looms over weather, floods and rising temperatures and that has already damaged a lot. So a lot of steps need to be taken to do something about it not only in India but globally.”

On March 9, the World Meteorological Organisation declared 2016 as the hottest year with the global averaged temperature about 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial period.

Bishop D’Silva urges Mumbai’s nearly 500,000 Catholics, almost 4 percent of the city’s population, to take climate change seriously. “This is a crisis that affects the future generations. If we have been handed over a beautiful world by our forefathers, it is our moral obligation to hand the same over to our next generation,” he added.

In 2012, he formed the parish environment club that introduced a biogas plant at the church ground. Daily kitchen waste amounting to 20kg, leftovers from weddings, and waste from a local vegetable market is all converted into cooking gas through a biogas plant. During the same year, a rooftop solar system with nine panels was set up at the school that powers lights and fans in every classroom, staff rooms and principal’s office.

After the restoration of the church in 2015 and the setting up of the Johannine Centre (church office), rainwater harvesting program was setup that saved 200,000 liters of water over the past two monsoons.

“It is an integrated system that can automatically switch to the grid. The move reduced our electricity bill by 40%,” said Father Michael Pinto, principal, St John the Baptist School. “People learnt from Fr Allwyn about eco-spirituality – faith combined with the concept to protect the environment. His efforts have created a lot of awareness among students through faith and practical examples.”

A visiting professor at St Pius College, a seminary in Goregaon, Bishop D’Silva started an ‘eco-club’ in 2012 that manages a garden with 26 species of 3,000 trees, 15 species of butterflies, 22 species of birds and seven species of insects and reptiles on campus. Additionally, his efforts gave way to a kitchen garden and a rainwater harvesting project at Our Lady of Nazareth High School, Bhayander (West).

Bishop D’Silva “is one of the first green voices in the city and recognized India’s environmental crisis long before anybody else. While such issues are being raised over the past few years, he’s brought environmental problems to the fore for over two decades ago,” said Father Savio Silviera, environmentalist and director, NGO GreenLine.

Satish Gavai, principal secretary, state environment department, finds Bishop D’Silva’s efforts highly commendable. “Such initiatives have far more impact within communities since the information is being disseminated through religion. He is setting an example not only for the church but for followers of other religions as well,” he added.

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