A group of nuns have built an open-air chapel right in the path of a proposed natural-gas pipeline, holding prayer services and advocating against the construction of infrastructure to transport fracked fossil fuel from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.
The chapel, which sits at the edge of a cornfield—right near one of the nuns originally found her calling as a child, according to The Washington Post—is designed to both protect Mother Earth and to block, at least symbolically, the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which would cut an 183-mile-long swath through the Pennsylvania countryside.
On July 10, more than 500 people joined the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ to dedicate the chapel, which also lies in the heart of Amish country. Local craftsman John Telesco built the chapel, which is essentially an outdoor arbor housing an altar surrounded by wooden benches, according to Sojourners, the spirituality and justice website.
“As prophets, we reverence Earth as a sanctuary where all life is protected,” said Sisters George Ann Biscan and Helene Trueitt on that day, reading from their community’s land ethic, which was adopted in 2005, according to Sojourners. “We strive to establish justice and right relationships so that all creation might thrive.”
The sisters have protested other developments worldwide, including the Sao Luiz Do Tapajos mega dam in Brazil, Sojourners noted.
Such sentiments pre-date but are directly in line with those espoused by Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical on climate change and the environment, On Care for Our Common Home, in which he urged that Indigenous Peoples be consulted on major industrial projects and development.
According to Sojourners, the pipeline would cut straight through eight “historically significant Native American cultural sites,” plus dozens of scenic waterways and preserved farms. The pipeline builder, Transco-Williams Group, said the company had been negotiating with the nuns for two years, that they would retain property ownership and that its use as a cornfield would not change once the pipeline was buried underneath.
“We respect peoples’ right to protest, as long as those protests are done peacefully and safely,” company spokesperson Chris Stockton told ICMN in an e-mailed statement. “Unfortunately, the placement of the arbor in the middle of the planned construction right-of-way creates a safety hazard for construction of this important, federally-approved project. With the exception of the width of the construction right-of-way, this structure can be placed anywhere else on the property without issue. Our top priority is the safety of protestors and construction personnel during the extensive pipeline installation process. While we respect the landowner’s right to protest, we disagree with the opinions that have been expressed about this important infrastructure project.”