This week I read a fascinating long-form article from the New Yorker about Molly Burhans and her work mapping the landholdings of the global Catholic Church. Her goal is to use this data to help the Church put its enormous amount of land to better use in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. Burhans is a young Catholic with an inspiring backstory and commitment to the Catholic Church, both in her faith and her desire to improve the Catholic Church. I highly recommend reading the article (or listening to it on the New Yorker website) here:
Burhans’ work and the reflections she shares in the article raised two aspects about the Church that I want to highlight:
First, the Catholic Church could be a global environmental force for good. To paraphrase the article: There are 1.2 billion Catholics and the global Church plus its associated organizations are already the world’s largest non-governmental provider of health care, humanitarian aid and education. While there are regional environmental groups, there is not a global environmental network within the Church. We have the lens through which to view and care for our common home, but we absolutely need heavy lifting from the global Church to live out that vision and address climate issues.
Second, the Church is behind the times when it comes to leveraging new technologies, especially big data. Burhans shares some of her experiences encountering a lack of data within local parishes and the Vatican and she also shares her vision of helping bring these tools to the Church, including a proposal for a Vatican cartography institute. While I am not necessarily surprised about the Church’s slow uptake on data and digital tools, the article demonstrated how introducing these tools in the right way could hugely benefit the global Catholic Church and its members.