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November 30, 2015, Paris, France – A delegation of four U.S. Dominican Sisters – including Adrian Dominican Sisters Patricia Siemen, OP, and Elise D. García, OP – are in Paris, representing approximately 4,000 to 5,000 US Dominican Sisters, to urge adoption of a legally binding agreement to address climate change at the 21st gathering of the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change. 

Also in the delegation, commissioned by the US Dominican Sisters Conference, are Amityville Dominican Sister Margaret Mayce, OP, the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Dominican Representative to the United Nations, and Caldwell Dominican Sister Patricia Daly, OP, Executive Director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment. 

The four Sisters join Dominicans from other parts of the world, as well as religious from other congregations and thousands of men and women from around the globe who have gathered to make the voice of the people heard on climate justice. Pope Francis recently highlighted what’s at stake, saying it would be “catastrophic” if the international community failed to reach an agreement. 

Hundreds of “side events” are being held around Paris by non-governmental organizations focused on presenting real climate solutions that would result in the “transformational” change that Pope Francis says is needed. One of these events, the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, will showcase a model for adjudicating cases under a legal framework that recognizes the rights of nature, offering a real and present solution to the root problem behind climate change and other human-induced ecological disasters. Under current law, nature is treated as private property to be destroyed for profit. It is a legal framework that is proving deadly to people and planet, requiring a transformation of our international and domestic legal systems toward a jurisprudence that recognizes rights of nature.

Sister Pat Siemen, JD, founding director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence of Barry University School of Law, is one of the planners of the Tribunal, which the Dominican Sisters will be attending on December 4 and 5, at the Maison des Métallos in Paris. 

Sister Elise, Director of Communications for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, will be writing stories about the Tribunal and other side events that she and the Sisters will be attending for the Global Sisters Report, the National Catholic Reporter’s online series of articles on the work of Catholic women religious. Read Sister Elise's first article.

To stay updated on the Tribunal and other events in Paris during COP21, you may also follow the Sisters on Twitter – Sister Pat: @EarthJurist  or @EarthNun and Sister Elise: @elisegarciaop.

Feature photo: Sister Pat Siemen, Amityville Dominican Sister Margaret Mayce, and Sister Elise Garcia at the Place de la Nation prior to a "human chain" event calling peacefully on COP21 leaders to "hear us" on climate justice.

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November 27, 2015, Detroit, MichiganVoices for Earth Justice, a faith-based network of people concerned for the environment, received the Detroit Community Development Award during a special ceremony on October 28 in Cobo Center’s Grand Riverview Ballroom.

Individuals and organizations working hard to improve the quality of life in Detroit’s neighborhood were honored for their tireless efforts. The 2015 awards, presented by the Masco Corporation Foundation, was hosted by Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD), and Michigan Community Resources. 

Voices for Earth Justice  was recognized for its establishment of Hope House and continuing efforts to open an Agro-Ecology Center and for completing a “project that leverages local artistic talent, private and public assets and/or other community resources, to transform a public space into a safe and inviting environment that attracts both residents and visitors.” 

Some 1,500 people attended the award ceremony, which also recognized organizations in such areas as excellence in real estate development, exemplary neighborhood, and extraordinary economic development.

Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, said Voices for Earth Justice had received a grant from CDAC, and, during an on-site visit, members of that organization saw the impact that Voices was having on their neighborhood. Sister Janet is co-founder of Voices with Adrian Dominican Associate Patricia Gillis, executive director.  

Voices for Earth Justice was founded in 2001 out of a need to bring a faith perspective to environmental efforts. “Voices is a faith-based network whose mission is to pray, educate, and act on behalf of Earth,” Sister Janet said.

In 2011, the Board saw the need to help low-income people in Detroit – to walk with the poor, Sister Janet said. They brought property in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit and, with an eye to sustainability, deconstructed and reconstructed a house on the property. The materials in the old house were recycled or re-purposed to create Hope House. 

Currently, half of Hope House is used as the home of two young men who work for Voices in outreach and gardening. The second half is being set up as an agro-ecology center to educate the public. Through a grant, Voices has purchased microscopes and other equipment and materials. “We look at insect life and plant life, and grow in our understanding of our interconnectedness with all species with whom we share our land,” Sister Janet explained. The agro-ecology center will be completed in the new year. 

In the mean time, Sister Janet said, Hope House has already made a positive impact on the people in and around Brightmoor. “People stop by to chat because they see that progress is being made, and they’re curious,” Sister Janet said. Some have already commented on the improvement that Voices has made in the area. Hope House has already influenced the neighbors. “Some neighbors have asked us to help them plant flowers to make their homes look nice,” Sister Janet noted.

This year, staff and volunteers have planted a vegetable garden and have shared the harvest with neighbors. In addition, groups have attended walk-throughs of the property to learn organic gardening methods. “We’re developing credibility,” Sister Janet said. “We’re trying to be good neighbors and show the value of caring for all of creation – from the buildings to the insects – and model some sustainable practices.”

Sister Janet expressed gratitude for the Ministry Trust for the grant that Voices received from the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “We are truly grateful that the Adrian Dominican Sisters walked with us, and they are very much part of our achievements and this award,” she said. 

Feature photo: From left, Sisters Janet Stankowski, Janet Traut, Annette Desloover, and Virginia (Ginny) King pause in the task of raking leaves to pose with the Detroit Community Development Award.



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