More and more Dutch parishes are going green to counter the Catholic demographic decline, a study has concluded.

Driving the news

According to a University of Radboud research project, which mapped Dutch Catholic parishes on the basis of their eco-friendliness, “a significant number” of the country’s 600 local churches “are developing sustainable initiatives”.

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“Over one third of the parishes pay attention to sustainability issues”, the researchers concluded, pointing not only to the churches’ involvement on political questions around the care of the environment but also to their practical steps as well.

Those on-the-ground projects include gestures such as installing solar panels, planting parish vegetable gardens, planting trees in cemeteries and parish green areas, conscious efforts to reduce waste and the responsible use of electricity and water.

Around a third of Dutch parishes also pride themselves on sustainability in the liturgy, the University of Radboud researchers found.

Why it matters

The university experts hailed the churches’ eco-friendly efforts as a positive step in the face of an aging Catholic population.

At a time when “many parishes are ageing and quickly shrinking in numbers… sustainability can… give new impetus to a parish, by connecting it to the neighbourhood and making it more visible”, study contributor and theologian Elisabeth Hense said.

Apart from the benefits to the environment, that increased involvement and visibility in the community that eco-friendly gestures bring is something Dutch people most value about the Churches, according to an official Catholic-Protestant joint report out January 17.

In a survey of 1,400 people, the Dutch Churches asked Catholics and Protestants for the “added values” communities of faith bring to society, and the answers were “mutual care, hospitality and celebrations”.

“The social dimension of being a Church is deeply valued by devotees”, explained Anna Kruse, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Netherlands.

“The Church is a community in which people know they are related to each other, who like to take care of each other, even [if] they are not there”.

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.