March 21 is celebrated in many parts of the world as International Day of the Tree or “arbor day” (from the Latin “arbor,” meaning tree). In the Philippines, the event is observed on June 25 as the Philippines Arbor Day, to enjoin everyone in a day of tree planting activities involving government and private sectors to promote both ecological consciousness and environmental sustainability.
The worldwide celebration this year of the 150 years of CICM presence is an occasion to remember the missionaries who have shown unique ways of being at the service of the Kingdom of God in their mission areas.
Known as “builders,” “founders,” and “innovators” in frontier situations all over the world, CICM missionaries have engaged themselves in school apostolate, parish work and special pastoral ministries, and community-building projects particularly in marginalized places.
In the Philippines, the CICM considers the preservation of the integrity of creation as a missionary priority through education for responsible and sustainable stewardship of the environment. Fr. Bernard Erkens is one CICM missionary who prominently figures in the Philippines’ environmental crusade.
Fr. Bernard or fondly called Fr “Ben” is a Dutch CICM and a long-time missionary in Tabuk, Kalinga. He arrived in the Philippines as a young missionary in 1955, together with five other missionaries. He was active in the re-greening movement in the province of Kalinga that many years later expanded into acres of continuing reforestation projects in many other areas.
Fr. Ben saw the need to change society’s attitude towards the environment as the key to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. His invitation is for people to try a Christ-like way of life in relation to the environment. It is a way of life that basically respects the integrity of God’s creation and that sustains it for generations to come.
Fr. Ben launched tree planting activities for hundreds of scholars in the region as part of their scholarship share. As part of their work, scholars must tend to these trees for a specified number of years. Until his return to the Netherlands a few years ago, the total number of trees planted through his advocacy has reached over 60,000.
These thousands of trees will surely immortalize Fr Ben and will serve as a lasting CICM legacy to a world that tends to forget that “only God can make a tree,” in the poetic words of Joyce Kilmer.
In the footsteps of Fr Ben, CICM schools like SLU have taken initiatives for many years now to promote environmental awareness and responsibility among students and the communities they partner with.
That is, in commitment to the CICM mission of the integrity of creation and guided by its institutional core value of social involvement, SLU has taken up measures in taking care of the environment and in mitigating the serious effects of global warming.
Specifically, SLU has implemented environment-friendly practices inside her campuses through its innovative “clean and green” and “reduce-reuse-recycle” schemes, clean air campaign, solid waste management through waste segregation, plastic-free Wednesday campaign, etc. in support to DENR environmental campaigns.
SLU is known in Benguet province for its comprehensive re-forestation agenda. To date, SLU has planted more than 7,000 trees through its tree planting activities in its adopted communities. The number of trees is expected to increase in the coming years through SLU’s ‘greening’ endeavors for a sustainable future. SLU maintains and enjoys hundreds of pine trees on the rolling hills of the Maryheights campus.
SLU’s active re-forestation campaign restores the natural environment as well as provides livelihood to the local communities. Recently, SLU-LES won the Platinum Award in the 2011 International Schools Cyberfair in environmental awareness category.