MUMBAI, India – As the international community marks World Environment Day, the home parish of India’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias is going green.

India is the global host of the 2018 World Environment Day, which is sponsored by the United Nations and takes place on June 5.

As one of the oldest churches in the Archdiocese of Bombay — it was founded by the Portuguese in 1534 — St. Michael’s Church in the Mahim neighborhood is very influential, even if you don’t include its famous son.

Father Simon Borges, the parish priest, is hoping to use this influence to promote better respect for the environment.

Borges’s “green plan” has had several steps to transform the church into a model for the community:

  • The installation of solar photovoltaics on the roof. Once the installation is complete and connected to the local grid, it would lower the church’s electricity bill by over $350 per month and reduce its carbon footprint by over 15 tons a year.
  • The solar water heaters put in place three years ago have already helped recover the investment cost from reduced energy consumption in the priests’ residential quarters.
  • Two giant fans inside the church as well as LED lights and e-tubes have helped to reduce energy and make worshipers comfortable.
  • The parish has started a compost pile for leaves and other plant matter collected at the parish.
  • The church is also the site of Mumbai’s first biogas unit run on flower waste. Flowers from the parishes popular Wednesday’s novenas go inside the bio-digester instead of the garbage dump.

“St. Michael’s Church is the home parish of Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who is a very keen advocate of the environment,” Borges told Crux.

“The cardinal has repeatedly said that we are administrators and we are not masters of creation. We have a moral obligation to protect and preserve it,” the priest said.

St. Michael’s green initiatives have also been followed by surrounding communities and institutions in the Mahim neighborhood.

St. Xavier’s Technical Institute and Canossa Convent have gone solar. Our Lady of Vailankani and Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Housing Society in Mari Nagar has gone a step further toward sustainability by setting up solar, rainwater, and compost systems to reduce energy, water and waste by at least one-third.

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India, which represents 17 percent of humanity, has an important role to play in the climate crisis. The government has prepared an ambitious plan to reduce India’s carbon emissions 33-35 percent by 2030, mostly by increasing the use of green energy sources – such as solar power – and decreasing the use of coal.

Dr. Emmanuel D’Silva is an environment scientist who serves as the parish’s technical advisor on its green initiatives.

“Climate change is the most serious challenge facing humanity today. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis called people of all faiths to take action against environmental degradation and confront the climate crisis,” he told Crux.

Francis’s 2015 ecological encyclical – subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home” – was published ahead of the December 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, and called on global leaders to take “swift and unified” action to protect the environment.

In the document, the pontiff calls climate change “a global problem with grave implications,” adding that “its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.”

Dr. Harsh Vardhan – India’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change – said the country was “excited” to be the global host of World Environment Day.

“Indian philosophy and lifestyle has long been rooted in the concept of co-existence with nature. We are committed to making Planet Earth a cleaner and greener place,” he said.

“If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our Green Social Responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet,” Vardhan added.

To mark the event, India announced it will be cleaning up 100 of its historic monuments, including the famous Taj Mahal.

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Bishop Allwyn D’Silva, an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Bombay, has been a longtime advocate for the environment, and serves as the executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) Climate Change Desk.

He told Crux he will be observing World Environment Day with a prayer service in the Laudato Si’ Garden located inside the parish compound of St. John Baptist Church in Thane, a city in the Greater Mumbai metropolitan area.

The garden was established last year on World Environment Day and features a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. The garden grows medicinal plants and herbs.

“The environment is deteriorating, and the Church and society are creating awareness,” the bishop said.

He will be attending a Vatican conference on Laudato Si’ entitled “Saving Our Common Home and the Future of Life on Earth” taking place July 5-6.