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Conference on Pope’s Environmental Encyclical Earns Rave Alumni Reviews

Our Common Home

Ichthys, courtesy of the artist, Xavier Cortada, and Honoring the Future, www.honoringthefuture.org.

By Phil Jutras ’65 and BCEEAN Newsletter Staff

From Sept. 28 through Oct. 1, 2015, BC showcased its talent for educational programming—for faculty, alumni, and the general public as well as students—to resounding acclaim. An interdisciplinary team of faculty organized “Our Common Home,” a four-day conference to explore the theological, ethical, social justice, policy, scientific, economic and practical implications of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si.

Even before the conference got underway, BC Associate Professor Tiziana Dearing—a much sought after commentator on national television news and radio—took to the airwaves, the nation’s major newspapers, and online outlets during Pope Francis’ U.S. visit.  As a former president of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston, Dearing brought her exceptional understanding of poverty to the commentary, emphasizing the Pope’s messages about poverty, inequality, and Catholic social teaching.

The Arts paved the way too. The BCEEAN member-led nonprofit Honoring the Future® and BC’s Biology Department co-sponsored a 28” x 48” photographic print of Miami artist Xavier Cortada’s Ichthys, an artwork created to welcome Pope Francis’ U.S. visit and climate change message. Ichthys functioned online as the conference’s symbol and in Higgins Hall, where students could view the colorful, prominently mounted print on their way to and from class. The title Ichthys, from the Greek word for fish, refers to a stylized image of two arcs intersecting to form a profile of a fish.  Early church members used this symbol “to communicate with one another, build fellowship, and spread their ideas during a time of persecution,” says the artist, who intended to evoke their sense of urgency and unity as models for climate action.

On the conference’s opening day, Senator Ed Markey ’68, JD’72 set the tone, keynoting the program with a sense of urgency on climate – a point emphasized by John Holdren, Assistant to the President of the United States on Science and Technology.  Building on their presentations at Robsham Theater was Cardinal Peter Turkson with a dynamic address on “Sustainable Humanity” and concern for the overlooked victims of climate warming. Approximately 50 alumni attended a BCEEAN-sponsored reception between the keynote addresses.

The theme of caring for vulnerable communities was extended on Tuesday, Sept. 30 with presentations by Maryanne Loughry, Associate Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Australia and Edouard Tetreau, a scientific advisor to the Vatican. Graciela Chichilnisky, Visiting Professor of Economics from Stanford University, explored the future of carbon reduction with technology she developed in California.

The Media Panel discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 30 drew a large crowd and a high level of audience participation.  Immediately afterwards, BC Associate Professor of Theology Mary Hinsdale joined BC Theology Professor Kristin Heyer and Catholic Climate Covenant Executive Director Dan Misleh in leading a stimulating discussion of the relationship between the Encyclical and Catholic social teaching.  They were followed by very thoughtful remarks from two BC undergraduates – William Musserian ’16 and Christie Merino ’16 – and an ethical analysis by two theology professors: Willis Jenkins (UVA) and Erin Lothes (College of St. Elizabeth).

Thursday, Oct. 1 featured a “What Can I Do?” Fair with over 20 organizations focused on advocacy, service, education, and careers assembled in a tent on campus green. Despite a drop in the temperature and some wind gusts, the event drew a steady stream of students for nearly three hours. BCEEAN Executive Committee members Phil Jutras ’65 and Liz Delaney ’00 joined Fran Ludwig ‘63, Jack Looney ‘72, Peter Durning ‘03, and Special Alumni Relations Advisor Bob Sherwood for one-on-one advising with the students.

Tufts Professor Julian Agyeman closed with an inspiring lecture on the importance of focusing on humanity when discussing sustainability. He challenged the audience to think of sustaining eco-systems and human systems as part of a greater whole.

Bob Sherwood and Visiting Earth and Environmental Sciences Assistant Professor Tara Pisani Gareau deserve commendation for superb organization and communication efforts, greatly facilitating outreach to alumni interested in attending the conference.

If you missed any of the events, catch them online at https://www.bc.edu/centers/ila/our-common-home/watch.html.

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