A religious order of nuns has built a chapel on the route of a proposed new gas pipeline in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
The Adorers of the Blood of Christ say the chapel stands as a symbol of resistance by people of faith to the planned natural gas pipeline called Atlantic Sunrise that developers want to build through miles of farmland and small towns of picturesque Lancaster County.
The pipeline’s path takes it through a strip of land the congregation owns in the Harrisburg Diocese that includes farmland, and the sisters contend that construction poses a danger to God’s creation. They have declined repeated offers of compensation from Transco, the project’s developer, to allow an easement for it to be built.
“This is something that we felt as a matter of conscience,” said Sister Sara Dwyer, coordinator of the congregation’s justice, peace and integrity of creation ministry. “We had to look at it more deeply and take a stronger stand.”
Allowing the pipeline through the property would run contrary to the congregation’s Land Ethic, she explained. Adopted in 2005, the document upholds the sacredness of creation, reverences the earth as a “sanctuary where all life is protected” and treasures the earth’s beauty and sustenance that must be protected for future generations.
Further backing its claim, the congregation filed a civil rights lawsuit on July 14 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania challenging the pipeline. The complaint argues that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s order authorising construction and operation of the pipeline violates the sisters’ right to practice their faith under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use land they own to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the deeply help religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers. It places a substantial burden on the Adorers’ exercise of religion by taking land owned by the Adorers that they seek to protect and preserve as part of their faith and, instead, using it in a manner and for a purpose that actually places the earth at serious risk,” the complaint reads in part.
Attorneys for the sisters argue in the filing that allowing the pipeline through the property “would harm God’s creation, violate the sacred nature of their property and interfere with their right to freely exercise and practice their religious beliefs in the use of their own land.”
The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s action and have the pipeline rerouted from the Adorers’ 24 acre plot eyed by Transco.
The Adorers’ stance has inspired others who have opposed the entire 183 mile pipeline since it was proposed three years ago by Transco, which is owned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based pipeline company Williams. The pipeline will carry natural gas from hydraulic fracturing wells in northeastern Pennsylvania to existing pipelines that run 10,200 miles from New York to Texas.
Sister Sara told Catholic News Service July 12 the congregation was pleased to allow construction of the chapel after it was proposed earlier this year by Lancaster Against Pipelines, a community group working to stop the project.
The chapel was dedicated July 9 with about 300 people attending.