Jesuit Parishes Act on Pope Francis’ Environmental Message
By Fran Dubrowski NC'70
As Director of Honoring the Future, a climate education project, I rejoiced at the attention Pope Francis brought to climate change during his historic 2015 visit to the United States. We felt confident the power of his presence and poetry of his words in his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si': On the Care of Our Common Home, would spark much-needed action on climate change. So we welcomed the opportunity recently to join with the Maryland and USA Northeast Jesuit Provinces to explore how Jesuit parishes had responded to the Pope's invitation to enter into dialog about care of our common home.
Eleven parishes along the East Coast from Maine to North Carolina shared with us initiatives they had undertaken to implement Pope Francis' environmental message. We, in turn, compiled the churches' ideas in an online report for ready sharing with other faith-based communities.
All of the churches viewed Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical as a call to action. They shared tangible examples of how they had integrated the Pope's environmental message into ministry to provide inspiration and a starting point for other faith communities.
Their ideas attest to their resourcefulness. Beside homilies and prayers, churches used lectures, bulletins, websites, social media, discussion groups, book clubs, and workshops to educate parishioners. Topics included eco-spirituality, environmental justice, energy efficiency, and carbon footprint reduction.
Arts initiatives abounded. At St. Ignatius, Boston, students wrote commitments to protect the environment on colorful strips of paper; the gathered strips formed a beautiful "earth ball" prominently displayed near the altar. Then-pastor, Fr. Bob VerEecke, SJ, and Assistant Paul Melley composed a song ("Laudato Si', Praise Be"). Holy Trinity in Washington, DC sponsored a film on the impact of climate change and an Honoring the Future panel, Climate SmART: Honoring Our Children's Future Through Faith, Art & Action. The program featured dialog and a reception with artists whose work addresses climate change. In Salem, NH, Sts. Mary and Joseph's banner called attention to a homily series on "acquisitiveness."
Churches greened their own operations with energy efficient renovations, recycling programs, reusable water bottle fountains, and fair trade/sustainable coffee. They reconnected urbanites to nature with gardening programs, including support for a garden, managed by the homeless, to feed 60-70 needy individuals.
Churches also called attention to food waste with a "simple supper," sponsored "No Meat Fridays," cleaned a local stream, and advocated climate action to government leaders. They collaborated with neighboring parishes, interfaith organizations, and nonprofit organizations. They identified useful online resources and, through their regional province, created a series of 10 online "Reflections" on the encyclical.
Honoring the Future produced the parish survey report in partnership with Kate Tromble, Holy Trinity Pastoral Associate for Social Justice. Edward Quinnan, SJ, and Nicholas Napolitano – Assistants, respectively, for Pastoral and Social Ministries in the Maryland and USA Northeast Jesuit Provinces – convened the group of participating parishes and provided guidance and support in preparing the report.