Leap Year Justice

“Use only phosphate-free detergents.” That’s the suggestion for June 6. “Sit with children and discuss the details,” urges April 29. Then, “Clean drains with soda and vinegar,” instructs November 24. For the last 27 years Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest (ASPI) has produced a calendar with 365 simple lifestyle suggestions.

Besides filled with stunning black and white photos that capture the spirit of Appalachia, the calendar offers daily reminders about walking gently on the earth.

As part of that lifestyle of respect for creation and community the calendar also highlights certain days that uniquely touch the social teachings of the Church. Circling them, people of faith can turn six secular days of commemoration into “justice days of reflection.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the third Monday of January. Since 1994 MLK Day has emphasized “a day on, not off.” It envisions people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds and races, joining together as equals to address important community issues, from homelessness to poor housing to domestic violence. Dr. King taught, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” This holiday encourages a recommitment to the spirit of community, especially through local projects.

Earth Day, April 22. Begun in the city of St. Francis, San Francisco, in 1970, Earth Day encourages a rededication to earth stewardship through environmental education and action. Daily choices can diminish waste, lessen pollution and assist nature when people walk more, buy less, recycle, or grow a vegetable garden. Earth Day celebrates God’s gift of creation.

Hiroshima Day, August 6. The first atomic bomb used in warfare was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on this day in 1945. Estimates claim 100,000 of the 300,000 residents perished immediately while another 100,000 died more slowly from radiation poisoning. Despite the horrific lessons from history, the Pentagon is building a new generation of “low-yield” mini-nukes that it intends to use with conventional weapons. Hiroshima Day teaches the simple moral principle: the end can never justify the means.

International Literacy Day, September 8. This day focuses on the importance of literacy throughout the world. Some 860 million adults cannot read or write, nearly two-thirds of them are women. More than 100 million children lack access to education. In the U.S. approximately 40 million adults (23 percent) are functionally illiterate. People totally or functionally illiterate cannot participate fully in democracy, nor enjoy life’s potential. Consequently, literacy represents an issue of human dignity.

Buy Nothing Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Started in 1993, BND challenges consumers to reflect for a day about what and how much they buy. The effects of hyperconsumption strain the environment, while the cheap prices necessary for that consumption deny a living wage to workers. BND says consumers can promote justice through their habits in the marketplace.

International Human Rights Day, December 10. On this day in 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people. Since all people have a right to life, all people deserve the treatment that holds life sacred. Solidarity demands speaking out against human rights abuses here in the United States, especially since 9/11, and throughout the world.

These six commemorative justice days chart a direction for the whole society. They combine with the 365 lifestyle suggestions challenging individual responsibility through concrete actions. Lightening up a bit, the ASPI calendar offers its 366th suggestion on Dec. 31 as the basic theme of this leap year for justice: “Simplify and celebrate.”

Fr. Rausch is a Glenmary priest who lives, writes and organizes in Appalachia.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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