From Parishes to Maquiladoras

The American Southwest: One pictures cowboys riding across a thorny but beautiful red rock desert under a clear blue sky. Most people are shocked to discover that Arizona has any environmental problems—but it does. A growing awareness of the threats posed to the environment and human beings led to the first Franciscan environmental organization in the United States, the SouthWest Environmental Equity Project (SWEEP).

SWEEP was conceived in 1992 by members of the Franciscan family (friars, sisters, secular Franciscans, and concerned laypeople) from Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada who realized that concern for the environment was a thread common to their region. They wanted to contribute to the environmental movement in a new way.

Historically, few environmental organizations incorporated a sense of social justice into their work. Yet studies have shown that people of color and the poor tend to be the most severely affected by pollution and other environmental problems, which has given rise to the environmental justice movement. SWEEP embraces Francis of Assisi’s devotion to the poor and his love of creation. The result is a blend of community organizing, Franciscan spirituality, environmental education, and political advocacy.

SWEEP exists today due in large part to the leadership of Bonnie Danowski, a laywoman from Scottsdale, Arizona. A longtime friend of the friars, and a former employee at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Danowski began by interviewing more than 100 people to determine the best way for the Franciscan family to respond to environmental problems in the Southwest.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1997
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