KKD St Pio Pietrelcina

By Linda Edward

Holy Spirit Sook aims to take ecological changes as their parish culture

Arriving in Holy Spirit Church, we were greeted with colourful wording embedded in its wire mesh fencing that says “We love GRKS”, an acronym adopted widely by the Catholic faithful in Sook, short for the Church’s name in Bahasa, Gereja Roh Kudus Sook. One could not help but see the clear wording, but as we approached nearer, we saw what they really are, empty 500 ml plastic bottles arranged in such a way. One must admit, it adds beauty to the place.

Our arrival was welcomed by the chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC), Dymnah Nirwaanah Dominic (Nir) and Leonie Lee Yun, coordinator of the Parish Committee in Harmonizing God’s Creation (CHGC), a newly set up environmental committee in the parish.

We were brought into the Church hall and as we entered, we saw a large artwork mounted on the concrete wall, which carries messages of care for environment, and stacks of ecobricks in what seemed to be in hundreds. They called this the Laudato Si Corner. Around the hall, there are dustbins made of, again, empty plastic bottles and a few large water tanks, the kind that one uses to store water. These are labelled for ‘drinking water’. What is GRKS up to?

GRKS is a parish located in Sook district, about 45 kilometres from Keningau town. It serves a total population of 17,321 Catholics of the interior Diocese of Keningau. Started as a Mission in the 60s, it was raised to parish level in 2013, making it the youngest among eight other parishes.

“There is no need to go far for this, just start at this parish”

Growing up in this era “A call to ecological change”, Nir said all ‘green efforts’ are a sign that GRKS is responding to this call. The PPC leader said they hope to increase, among the Sook communities, awareness of the importance to join the movement of ‘saving the earth’ and to say: “There is no need to go far for this, just start at this parish.”

The most basic problem is taking responsibility of managing their own rubbish. “We hope we don’t need to repeatedly remind the faithful about this anymore,” said Nir.

“We aim to take ecological change as a culture in this parish; whenever there is program, we would practise ‘Litter-Free Event’. We are also consulting the vendors selling inside the premise to work towards plastic-free materials.

“For big events, we will no longer provide mineral water, but we encourage the faithful to bring their own refillable water bottle which they can source from the big blue water tanks specially prepared by this Church.

“We also emphasize on beautifying the Church compound…by planting more trees and flowers…by enhancing our welcoming with wording made from plastic bottles at our entrance gate. Before this, you don’t see all these.

“Our first Litter-Free event was a Choir Competition at Labou Zone held Sep 30 last year, which was a success! There was not one rubbish you could see lying around, even though there were many vendors,” said Nir, and added, “if you really put your heart into making things happen, the people will indeed respond.”

How it all started

Leonie said the effort started during the Khemah Belia Keuskupan Keningau Ke-5 (KBK5) in Aug 2019. “We (organizer) thought that we needed to do something different. At that time, we were already aware of the severe effects of human activities on our planet and the call to respond in Laudato Si. So we adopted the idea of making ecobricks as a practical step. Each participant brings one ecobrick and we stack them at the Laudato Si Corner.

But the buck does not stop there. Nir and Leonie, who made good team work, suggested to continue with the practical idea, bringing it further and right into the heart of the Catholic community, the KKDs (Basic Christian Community) where the families are. They received support from the Council and the parish priests.

This made them the first parish in Keningau Diocese to embark on such a journey, even before the official setting-up of the diocesan-level CHGC Commission on Sep 1 in KSFX.

“Besides the youth, the KKD from each zone also participated during KBK5 until now. At first, they would shy away due to lack of technical know-how (of making ecobricks), but after doing it once and then repeatedly, they needed no more coaching.”

CHGC in all

178 KKDs

The Committee in Harmonizing God’s Creation (CHGC) at parish level was officiated on Oct 11, 2019. Their next goal is to establish the same committee at KKD level in all 178 KKDs. Leonie said this bottom-up approach is to ensure an effective line of communication.

The people need to understand the vision of the commission, Leonie explained. “They relate CHGC with ‘picking up rubbish’, but it’s so much more. I informed them that it’s also to educate the faithful so that they know more, for example, the meaning of zero-waste.”

“This is about managing waste and repurposing it into something useful. Surprisingly, there are zones who have already started to produce their own composting enzyme to fertilize their organic farms.

“We also plan to repurpose the ecobricks into products such as tables and chairs. So, it’s not just about picking up rubbish,” she said.

Sook Parish

Start small in the family:

Its many challenges

Leonie: To start this in the family is very challenging. In the beginning, my father would scold me, “Buat apa mau simpan sampah?” (Why do we keep trash?) But he tried it anyway. I saw there were already a few bags of plastic. We also did waste segregation at home. After a while, he said, “Rupanya bagus ini cara, kurang sudah sampah kita.” (“This is a good method, we have less trash now”). We also operate a shop and aim to make chairs out of ecobricks. So my goal now is to diligently guide my family to continue to be disciplined in contributing to ecological change.

Nir: I live with my husband’s family. There are many plastic trash here and there since long ago. When I introduced them to ecobricks, they somewhat complained, “Apa kunun mau buat ini?” (What do we want to do about it?) After trying, they were excited and wanted to do more, until they cleared all the old plastics. Now they are doing it on their own, keeping all the plastics and segregating the bottles and cans. The trash left now is only the organic waste.

Petronilla Chrispine, KKD St Pio of Pietrelcina: We plan to make tables and chairs from ecobricks for our own use at home, so we won’t have to buy but use what we have. But our ecobricks are still not enough, we need 200-500 kilogram more. This will probably take a year or so. The long process is testing our patience but at the same time, I feel excited because I am part of the movement to save the earth.

I heard about the mission to save the earth from our Church here, where talks on Laudato Si were organized. Before this, I didn’t care, I threw trash as I wished. But when we were exposed to the awareness, I knew I had to change.

Slowly I bring my family alongside. We would prepare specific places to segregate our dry and wet trashes and recycle items. It was a challenge at first but when I explained to them and they saw me practising it, they followed. It’s been a year now.

Environmental awareness

Awareness on environmental or climate change issues is one of the causes that hinder ecological changes.

“In this new year, we plan to insert CHGC program in the KKD programs, which will not just be spiritual programs but would include a talk on God’s creation. We do see the need as we observe that whenever a spiritual program is organized, it always ends with lots of trash being left behind… I really do see the need to include an awareness talk,” Nir concluded with great conviction.