American mining under scrutiny at ecumenical meeting on food justice

(Photo: Reuters / Ulises Rodriguez)A boy sorts fish known as Pepesca or Ejote, after fishing with local fishermen at Lake Ilopango, in Ilopango on the outskirts of San Salvador March 20, 2013. Fishermen and members of the Friends of Lake Ilopango periodically clean the lake for weekend visitors and also to keep the fish population healthy. Picture taken March 20, 2013.

North American mining corporations in El Salvador came under scrutiny at the 2013 Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice, accused of devastating the land and poisoning the Rio Lempa, the country's main water source.

The conference wrapped up Sunday in Crystal City, Virginia, after three days of faith-based discussions centered on theme "At God's Table."

Christians from around the world and across denominations attended the annual conference, which highlighted injustices in the global food system, including land use, hunger and farm workers' rights.

On Saturday, Oxfam America, a long-timer partner of the conference, hosted a lunch plenary about the devastating effects of metallic mining on local communities in Guatemala, Ghana and El Salvador.

Sandra Carolina Ascencio, a pastoral agent for Franciscan Friars' Office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation in El Salvador, was one of three speakers at the plenary.

For Ascencio, speaking out against the human rights abuses committed by North American mining corporations in El Salvador is a Christian duty she addressing damage done by North American mining corporations to land and the River Lempa.

"I have been working on this project with the Franciscans for the past 10 years and what really motivated me to join this effort is that I found a new way to evangelize," she said through a translator. "I feel that the dignity of our people is really what we need to keep us Christians."

Laura Hurtando, coordinator of Campaigns and Advocacy at Oxfam Guatemala and Augustine Niber, executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law in Ghana rounded out the plenary panel, which drew passionate responses from the audience.

One woman stood up with her gold wedding band in her hand. She said she had found herself holding it during the plenary and had come to the conclusion that it "costs too much."

Another woman said she came to the realization that food justice issues are not just about "what we want to, but what we want to stop."

She said the old adage that if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a day, but that if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime was becoming untenable.

"That's not true if we allow our companies to contaminate their fishing places."

Monday, conference attendees will visit Washington D.C.'s Capitol Hill to lobby their respective Congress members about food justice issues.

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