St John the Baptist Church at Thane has shown the most energy efficient way to pray by using a large fan – equivalent to 10 household fans – that ensures 30% reduction in electricity consumption and cools a church that has an attendence of 1,000 people on Sundays.
Auxiliary bishop Father Allwyn D’Silva, as the parish priest of the 500-year-old church and manager of St John the Baptist School, set up the fan along with a number of environment friendly initiatives ranging from solar power, rain water harvesting, recycling organic waste to installing LED lights at the church grounds.
Over the past two decades, he has been trying to reduce the impact of global warming through several awareness initiatives, environmental education at schools and published academic papers to make the parish eco-friendly. D’Silva is also the head of the Archdiocesan Office for Environment, and secretary for the Federation of Asian Bishops (FABC) Climate Change Desk.
“Climate change is rooted in faith, because to care for creation is to manifest one’s love for the creator. The more we care for creation, the more spiritual we become,” he said. “Uncertainty looms over weather, floods and rising temperatures and that has already damaged a lot. So a lot of steps need to be taken to do something about it not only in India but globally.”
On Thursday, the World Meteorological Organisation declared 2016 as the hottest year with the global averaged temperature about 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial period.
D’Silva urges the Catholic Church, which has nearly 500,000 members in Mumbai, almost 4% of the city’s population, to take climate change seriously. “This is a crisis that affects the future generations. If we have been handed over a beautiful world by our forefathers, it is our moral obligation to hand the same over to our next generation,” he said.
In 2012, he formed the parish environment club that introduced a biogas plant at the church ground. Daily kitchen waste amounting to 20kg, leftovers from weddings, and waste from a local vegetable market is all converted into cooking gas through a biogas plant. During the same year, a rooftop solar system with nine panels was set up at the school that powers lights and fans in every classroom, staff rooms and principal’s office.
After the restoration of the church in 2015 and the setting up of the Johannine Centre (church office), rainwater harvesting program was setup that saved 2 lakh litres of water over the past two monsoons.
“It is an integrated system that can automatically switch to the grid. The move reduced our electricity bill by 40%,” said Father Michael Pinto, principal, St John the Baptist School. “People learnt from Fr Allwyn about eco-spirituality – faith combined with the concept to protect the environment. His efforts have created a lot of awareness among students through faith and practical examples.”
A visiting professor at St Pius College, a seminary in Goregaon, D’Silva started an ‘eco-club’ in 2012 that manages a garden with 26 species of 3,000 trees, 15 species of butterflies, 22 species of birds and seven species of insects and reptiles on campus. Additionally, his efforts gave way to a kitchen garden and a rainwater harvesting project at Our Lady of Nazareth High School, Bhayander (West).
“Fr Allwyn is one of the first green voices in the city and recognised India’s environmental crisis long before anybody else. While such issues are being raised over the past few years, he’s brought environmental problems to the fore for over two decades ago,” said Father Savio Silviera, environmentalist and director, NGO GreenLine.
“The efforts by Fr Allwyn D’Silva are highly commendable. Such initiatives have far more impact within communities since the information is being disseminated through religion. He is setting an example not only for the church but for followers of other religions as well,” said Satish Gavai, principal secretary, state environment department.