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(RNS) The Rev. Thomas Berry, a Passionist monk who made it his life’s work to explore the connection between humans and the earth, died at a retirement community in his native Greensboro, N.C., on Monday (June 1). He was 94.
The self-described “geologian” was on the forefront of eco-theological thinking, trying to link religious institutions and individuals to their role in creation and the need to preserve the environment.
“He was one of the most influential ecological writers of our time,”
said Drew Dellinger, a spoken word poet who considered Berry his mentor for the past 20 years.
Dellinger said he recalled Berry’s soft-spoken arguments that always featured a “twinkle in his eye” and “trickster energy.” Listeners felt, he said, “like you (were) in the presence of a mystic.”
Berry’s warnings of environmental destruction and mass extinction were detailed in his work, “The Dream of the Earth,” which probed the spiritual responsibility of individuals.
“The universe is a communion of subjects,” he often said, “not a collection of objects.”
In his eight books, countless essays and numerous travels, Berry preached that “we have to be terrorized by what we have done, but not without hope.”
Berry entered the Passionist order and was ordained in 1942, taking the name Thomas after the scholar Thomas Aquinas. He earned his doctoral degree in history from The Catholic University of America and always shunned the label of a radical, describing himself instead as a “traditionalist.”
“He suggested that we put the Bible on the shelf for 20 years until we learn to read the scripture of the natural world. He said we should put Webster’s Dictionary on the shelf as well, because we needed a new language to guide us into an ecological future,” Dellinger wrote in a blog post.
Besides serving as an Army chaplain in Europe in the early 1950s, Berry taught and directed programs of religious history at Fordham University in New York. In 1970, he founded the Riverdale Center of Religious Research in Riverdale, N.Y., where he was also a director for 17 years.
By Lindsay Perna
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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