Catholic Health Care Ministry Resonates the Pope’s “Laudito Si” through Green Practices

Pope Francis’s recently released encyclical on environment and climate change has compelled many across the world, regardless of religious beliefs, to re-examine global environmental problems and how it reflects human race’s lack of accountability in looking after the planet.

The health care sector plays a dual role of caring not only for people’s health but also the environment, and even before the Pope’s much talked about statement, stewardship has long been central in the operations of Global Green and Healthy Hospitals member St. Paul de Chartres Health Care Ministry in the Philippines under the leadership of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres.

“Stewardship is one of the strategic directions of St. Paul Hospital Cavite (SPHC),” explains Sister Arcelita Sarnillo, the administrator of one of the ministry’s hospitals. “We continually explore initiatives on how we can intensify our practice of environmental stewardship on the aspect of solid waste management, waste water treatment, as well as utilization of renewable energy, such as biogas and solar power.”

Sister Arcelita Sarnillo of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres demonstrates the needle cutter she herself designed to properly dispose of used needles in their hospital.

Sister Arcelita Sarnillo of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres demonstrates the needle cutter she herself designed to properly dispose of used needles in their hospital.

The ministry, which runs 13 hospitals across the country, is recognized and lauded by many other health care facilities for their waste management system, from their strict implementation of basic segregation and recycling, to their waste water facilities and composting of biodegradables. At SPHC, in partnership Health Care Without Harm, the hospital is using worms to treat infectious wastes such as diapers through vermicomposting.

In order to encourage hospital staff to actively participate in minimizing waste, SPHC has also found a way to incentivize proper waste disposal through the project “Bundle of Joy,” wherein earnings saved from waste management efforts such as the sale of recycled items and collection fees for infectious waste and residual waste are enjoyed by hospital staff come Christmas time.

Reflecting on the Pope’s lament about “throwaway culture” and how it “quickly reduces things to rubbish,” Sister Arcelita echoes His Holiness’s call to  care for both human life and the earth and move away from the wasteful vertical model in utilizing the planet’s resources. “Aside from the fact that it is a very expensive mentality, it also burdens Mother Earth with all the rubbish. The Pope’s encyclical reflects a more complex crisis, both  environmental and human/social.  Our attitude to non-living things will  also affect the way we deal with one another and to creation as a whole.”

Aside from implementing green practices in hospitals, Sister Arcelita also shares how sustainable ways can be implemented in communities through the parishes. “The idea of environmental stewardship, particularly on proper waste management,  may be incorporated  during medical missions where health teachings are part of the activity. It can also be shared to the general public by collaborating with the parishes to conduct lectures on environmental stewardship, such as solid waste management and the prudent use of water supply.”

Quoting her favorite quote from the encyclical, Sister Arcelita calls on the health care sector to take the lead in joining the Pope’s call to take the necessary immediate actions: “As Christians, we are called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion; as a way of sharing with God and our neighbour… with the conviction that the divine and the human meet in the seamless garment of God’s creation.”