The Gospel of Goodlands

Maybe we’re all searching for good news these days, whether consciously or not, but I thought this was so good on so many levels that I wanted to, well, just vote “yes,” I guess, and share. 

The New Yorker for Feb. 8 has an article about Goodlands, a company founded and directed by Molly Burhans.  She and her team are assembling a huge, on-line map of the land holdings of the Catholic Church, a massive challenge in itself.  But they’re also layering information about the church administration by diocese as well as up-to-date information about climate change. It’s been a difficult road so far.  She’s depended on charitable donations — including software and, at points, accommodation — to keep going.  She has had several very encouraging meetings at the Vatican, although the extent of the Church’s commitment to the project is not entirely clear.  

Molly is still in her twenties.  With strong interests and educational credentials in both computer science and land management, she is also a committed Catholic.  She hadn’t really understood her own convictions very well until she met Guatemalan Catholics whose faith included convictions about the way land ought to be used to reduce poverty and improve lives.  “They were Christians,” she said, “but not like the Christians you see on TV–none of the prosperity gospel crap…in fact, exactly the opposite.  I began to think, maybe I’m a Christian”. 

The Catholic Church is among the largest landowners in the world, with a population of roughly 1.2 billion.  Some of the land records are so out of date as to be unusable, and there is no policy for maintenance or use. Molly wants the Church to take on the huge, but in her view absolutely critical task of managing its land humanely. “What if desecration of the environment were a mortal sin?” she wonders, “Could faith accomplish what science and politics have not?”

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