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Catholic order includes environmental activism

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A Roman Catholic women's religious order has broadened its social justice mission to include environmental activism.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross have been working to raise ecological awareness among their members, including those at St. Mary's College, since the order signed the international Earth Charter in April 2000.

Environmental advocacy meshes naturally with the order's other primary missions, such as seeking economic relief for Third World nations, said Sister Ann Oestreich, justice coordinator for the order, which has nearly 600 members in eight nations.

"You do find the poorest people live in the most ecologically degraded part of countries," Oestreich said. "We also found it was part of our spirituality. 'Save the rain forest' is also 'Thou shalt not kill.' The earth is part of what is loved and cherished by God."

The sisters' involvement with ecological causes includes prayer and lobbying for legislation and treaties that aim to protect the environment.

Oestreich said the Sisters of the Holy Cross have also asked American Electric Power to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Oestreich said the sisters are also trying to persuade Ford Corp. to allow stockholders to vote on a resolution backing production of environmentally friendly vehicles. And they have spoken with Dow Chemical officials about genetically modified foods.