Bishop's environmental rhetoric is a Christ-free zone

Care for creation: environmental bishop for "all-inclusive access"

Bishop Schwarz of St. Pölten pleads in the run-up to the "Day of Creation" (Sept. 1) for holistic ecology that combines environmental with economic and social issues - Appreciation for "climate glue", which, however, must not put others in danger - For speed reduction in road traffic, politics is responsible, to which Schwarz does not want to "write anything into the pedigree"

Sustainability ensures the survival of mankind and requires "to keep the life and quality of life of the next generations in mind and to include them in all activities": this was emphasized by Bishop Alois Schwarz of St. Pölten, who has long been responsible for environmental agendas in the Bishops' Conference, in the run-up to the "Day of Creation" (September 1). In an interview with the news agency Kathpress, he pleaded for a "holistic ecology" in the sense of the Pope's encyclical "Laudato si", which combines environmental with economic and social issues. "There is a need for an all-encompassing approach to the integrity of creation" that has the well-being of future generations in mind, Schwarz said.

Addressing the summer of 2023, with record water and air temperatures, forest fires around the world and flooding in Austria, the bishop noted that it was clear that nature was changing: "It's getting hotter, stormier and many violent storms are plaguing countless people, animals and plants." He said his mission as bishop is to consider "what we can do as a diocese" to counteract this.

Schwarz said that his duties do not include "writing something into the statute book" of politics. Asked whether he supports the demand for a speed reduction in road traffic, as do, for example, the church environmental officers or Catholic Action Austria, the environmental bishop answered cautiously: "The topic of 'speed reduction' is about the common good of people, regardless of their religious origin and denomination. Therefore, it's an issue that politicians care about."

Regarding the "people who glue themselves to the road" - which are also politically controversial and are known to call for 100/80/30 speed limits on the roads - Schwarz said, "I appreciate the commitment of the people who want to show that more finally needs to be done. There is tremendous power here to be able to make a difference." Sometimes, however, the protest actions are chosen so rashly that the lives of other people are put in danger as a result, he said. This is something that needs to be considered, despite all the commitment. According to the bishop, it would be good to "use the potential of the activists to constructively advance the work of environmental protection.

Preference for rail instead of airplane

He himself certainly takes his responsibility for climate protection seriously: "My personal contribution is to reduce air travel, and where possible, I try to travel by train." He also prefers to eat regional and seasonal food. "In addition, I make sure to reduce electricity consumption in my living area," Schwarz shared.

And also at the Church level - namely in the diocese of St. Pölten - a lot is happening, he said. For the "Creation Time" that begins on September 1 and lasts until October 4, the Catholic Action has prepared service and prayer materials (see, and in many parishes the campaign "We cycle to church" will take place again on Sunday, September 17. The diocesan environmental award, for which submissions are possible until September 30, focuses on the topic of energy saving, Schwarz pointed out. And: Recently, the Waldviertel parish of Echsenbach joined the Climate Alliance. "The Diocese of St. Pölten, itself a Climate Alliance diocese, encourages parishes to follow suit," its Bishop encouraged.

He said that the Diocese of St. Pölten had also "taken significant steps" this year with regard to the conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energies with the construction of the hydroelectric power plant and two large photovoltaic systems. Schwarz reported that in the previous year he set the course for another ecological showcase project: In the middle of St. Pölten, the construction of a hydroelectric power plant - "for this purpose, a turbine was installed in the Mühlbach" - meant that the church buildings and the St. Hippolyt Bildungshaus can be supplied with renewable energy from hydroelectric power without electricity. The power plant will go into full operation in August.

3 million euros for energy projects

Schwarz announced a major investment by his diocese in the area of energy supply: A survey was carried out in the parishes to find out in which buildings oil heating was to be replaced by biomass heating or district heating. This had resulted in net investment costs of about 3 million euros. This money has already been used to optimize or convert about 60 heating systems.

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Furthermore, Schwarz mentioned continuous impulses for parishes for sustainability in economic activity, for example in the design of festivals, efforts to create creation-friendly parish gardens and cemeteries, as well as awareness-raising through events on the topic of creation. The Diocese of St. Pölten and the Province of Lower Austria, together with the Protestant Church and other organizations, annually award the diocesan environmental prize; and the Austria-wide "Environmental Prize 2023 of the Protestant and Catholic Church" is endowed with 10,000 euros. 



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