Faith meets ecology: Rosaries made from ocean plastic shine at World Youth Day

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In a unique blend of faith and environmental activism, pilgrims from Vancouver, British Columbia, handed out rosaries crafted from recycled ocean plastic to attendees of World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, this August. This initiative, backed by Plastic Bank, aimed to spotlight the dual themes of religious devotion and ecological stewardship.

Plastic Bank, a Vancouver-based social enterprise, has carved a niche for itself by transforming plastic waste into items of value. Their mission is twofold: curbing the flow of plastic into oceans and simultaneously addressing poverty by making plastic a resource too precious to discard.

“Of the 1,000 rosaries crafted, 100 were distributed during World Youth Day,” Peter Nitschke, who is at the helm of Community Partnerships at Plastic Bank, shared with CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. “The response was overwhelmingly positive.”

He expressed hope that these unique rosaries would resonate with Pope Francis’ message in Laudato Si’, urging global citizens to care for the planet. “In intertwining faith with environmental consciousness, our aim is to galvanize both pilgrims and the wider public to embrace the social recycling ethos,” Nitschke stated.

The inception of this initiative, as Nitschke recounted, was serendipitous. 

“Taylor Cannizzaro, our chief relationship officer, was en route to Rome for discussions on potential collaborations between Plastic Bank and the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development. A chance encounter with a fellow passenger, a rosary artisan, sparked the innovative idea of crafting rosaries from plastic destined for the oceans.”

The process, as detailed by Nitschke, is community-centric. “Locals collect plastic waste from varied sources, ranging from coastal areas to urban neighborhoods. This not only aids in environmental cleanup but also economically uplifts these communities.”

He highlighted a commendable effort from Brazil, where a parish succeeded in gathering over 24,000 kilograms (about 53,000 pounds) of plastic in a brief span. “Such endeavors underscore the transformative power of grassroots movements,” Nitschke remarked.

Once collected, the plastic undergoes a metamorphosis, eventually finding its way into various products, including the rosary beads.

A rosary made from plastic refuse collected from the ocean. Plastic Bank
A rosary made from plastic refuse collected from the ocean. Plastic Bank

Nitschke also touched upon the societal implications of their initiative. “These rosaries are meticulously crafted by individuals at the Manila City Jail as part of a special program by the Philippine Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. This program offers inmates, termed as People of Deprived Liberties, avenues for skill development and earning opportunities.”

Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’: “The growing problem of marine waste and the protection of the open seas represent particular challenges” and emphasized “our duty to care for the oceans as part of an integrated vision of human development.”

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