Roman Catholic educators meeting in Washington this week said the national Catholic bishops' pastoral letter on war and peace will be incorporated into parochial school curricula and may serve as a catalyst for other justice and environmental issues in the schools.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, chairman of the five-member committee of bishops that developed the third draft of the pastoral statement, urged Tuesday in a speech at the National Catholic Educational Association's 80th annual convention that parishes and parochial schools promote discussion of peace and justice.

The document's 150-page third draft, released Wednesday, focuses Catholic theology on war and peace and sharply condemns nuclear arms. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops will vote on it in early May when it meets in Chicago.

The size of the church--51 million members, or one-fourth of the country's population--and the tight hierarchical structure of the church give the document added power.

"My view is that the Catholic population represents the great political center of the country , and I think that Catholic education has a big influence on that center," said Sister Loretta Carey in an interview Wednesday. Carey, director of the Center for Education for Justice and Peace at Fordham University, was a speaker at the convention.

Carey's justice and peace center is a five-year-old joint project of Fordham and the National Catholic Educational Association. It focuses on curriculum development on peace and justice issues, among them nuclear arms, human rights, the planet's resources, and an "affluence gap" among countries and people. The center has worked primarily in New England states.

"The prevailing Catholic belief relates to 'my personal relationships,' and we're saying it relates to everyone in the world," she said. "Catholics have always been involved in aiding suffering victims, but the shift in consciousness is asking why are these people suffering and being involved in change in that."

The movement is fledgling in the schools, but "what we're endeavoring is to make it central," Carey said. The bishops' pastoral letter will give it "a big impetus," she said.

Sister Paula Gonzalez, a futurist from Cincinnati and a speaker at a convention workshop, warned that time is running out. She came to the convention with statistics and a warning that human beings are "on the brink of transformation or annihilation."

Necessary for human survival, she said, is an immediate change in the global view of the world and its resources, a global sharing of those resources, and a simplification of life styles in industrialized countries, particularly the United States. "Twenty years from now is too late," she said in an interview.

The word futurism means studying present trends and applying them to the future. It also includes a concept that trends can be changed to change the future.

Gonzalez, who has a PhD in biology, works out of the 3-year-old Futures Awareness Center of the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati. She conducts teacher workshops across the country on peace and justice issues in a program called Let's Explore Alternative Possibilities (LEAP).

"The major enterprise of our teachers should be to engage the young people of all ages in the urgent effort of remodeling the world," she said.

Besides the nuclear arms danger are dangers of exhaustion of the world's resources and pollution of the planet beyond renewal, she said. "One of the problems of nuclear arms is the unbelievable damage to the environment." The bishops' pastoral letter "could open the door up to discussion of these other problems."

The earth's population will be 6 billion people by the year 2000, 1.5 billion more than today and double the population in 1960, Gonzales said.

The "consumptive explosion" in industrialized countries is even more critical, she said.

"Since 1940, the consumerism in the rich world, especially in this country, has become enormously greater. We have lived a life style unprecedented and a life style unsustainable on this planet," she said.

The United States, which has only 5 percent of the world's population, consumes 35 to 40 percent of the world's resources, she said.

In one energy measurement, the average American uses up 250,000 calories a day, compared to 12,000 a day by a person in China, and less than 2,000 a day at starvation levels in the sub-Sahara region of Africa, she said. The measure includes anything from food to the energy used in the operation of material goods, such as cars or washing machines, and in the making of those machines, she said.

The ecological balance is fragile and being chipped away globally, she said. Examples range from nuclear wastes dumped in the ocean with no international regulation to a new foresting of the Amazon rain forest. If half of this forest were cut down, the world would lose 20 percent of its oxygen supply, she said. On nuclear use in any form, "there's no such thing as safe," she said.

She gave recommendations for immediate changes in the United States: the U.S. subsidies to farmers for not growing crops could be switched to subsidies to produce crops to give to the starving in poor countries; a switch from a focusing on nuclear power to development of renewable energy sources, including solar power, and a simplification of life styles.

"The vision of the past that we have is a nonsustainable vision," she said. "You cannot sustain the industrial revolution, and you cannot make little industrial societies elsewhere . The planet won't sustain it."

About 12,000 Catholic educators attended the four-day convention, held at the Shoreham and Sheraton Washington hotels.

"Everybody who's here is hearing this global aspect," said Sister Jeanette Uzdavinis, principal of St. Joan of Arc Elementary School in Aberdeen, Md.

Her school has no formal program on peace and justice issues, but classes such as social studies touch on the concept "that we're not just one little group of people in Aberdeen, Md., but part of a global population," she said. The issues are discussed from "questions the kids are bringing up," she said.

Brother James Kearney, superintendent of schools of the Archdiocese of New York, said his school system will incorporate the bishops' document into its present religious education program. The archdiocese two years ago added peace and justice issues to its religious education guidelines to the schools, he said.

The Rev. Thomas Gillespie, principal of Padua Academy in Wilmington, Del., said that incorporation of the document into school courses is expected in the fall.

"It could be a course," he said. "But I see it as falling into every course, because the issue is a problem worldwide."