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We should step up our response to the call to action of Pope Francis’ ‘Laudato Si”

A zookeeper in Seattle is seen during the coronavirus pandemic March 24, 2020. (CNS photo/Lindsey Wasson, Reuters)

“In a world where I am surrounded by countless reasons to lose hope, I am fortunate to work in a place where hope lives and breathes.”

These words were spoken by an administrator at a Catholic high school in Omaha, Nebraska, Eric Krakowski, about his school’s response to Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care of Our Common Home.”

As the fifth anniversary of “Laudato Si'” approaches, as well as the 50th annual Earth Day on April 22, we as Catholics are all called to facilitate this kind of hope for our earth’s future.

Effie Caldarola
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.” (CNS photo)

Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart has made significant progress since a waste audit three years ago found they were diverting less than 20% of their waste away from the landfill. Today, they divert 78% of their waste to recycling and composting.

Their lunch facility has banished Styrofoam and plastic, and compost bins are all over campus. The school utilizes locally sourced food, has an Energy Star rating and solar panels.

A nearby parish, St. John’s on the Creighton University campus, has taken practical steps to change the way their social activities impact the earth. Parish dinners have a zero waste goal. The parish contracts with a local composting company, and all paper napkins or plates and all food waste are placed in containers for pick-ups by this company for composting into usable soil.

The parish purchases biodegradable, compostable disposable utensils for large events. Sunday morning coffee and donuts feature biodegradable cups. The prayer of the faithful often features environmental pleas.

Every Catholic parish and every Catholic school can and should begin to implement these kinds of changes, and the upcoming celebration of Earth Day would be a good launching point.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” woke the world to the impending danger of air and water pollution and helped to inspire the first Earth Day in 1970. Today, the world is awakening to a deepening environmental crisis.

As Catholics, our call to action came five years ago when Pope Francis issued his powerful encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care of our Common Home.” Although replete with scientific and economic data, “Laudato Si'” emphasized the spiritual nature of our challenge.

How do we, as Catholics, respond to Pope Francis’ call to action? How do we experience the conversion of heart necessary to honor creation?

Most of us have made changes in our own lives. Perhaps we use cloth grocery bags, take our reusable coffee mugs to the coffee shop, decline plastic straws and try to recycle what we can and use less.

But strength lies in community action, and our parishes, schools and dioceses need to step up in action and education.

The same administrator quoted above also expressed his personal disappointment that “I don’t hear ‘Laudato Si” talked about in our parishes and homilies. We are not challenged to consume less as part of the Gospel message.”

To see this change, we need to be advocates. We need to speak up. We need to let our pastors know that this issue is important to us. Perhaps we could suggest an Earth Day homily featuring “Laudato Si'”?

We need to write letters to Catholic school administrators, pastors and local bishops urging them to prioritize environmental justice. We need to press for environmental audits and improvements in parishes and schools.

Every parish needs a committee that educates and advocates for environmental issues. We need to examine from a Gospel viewpoint how climate change is most adversely affecting the poor and how we have an obligation to live with less.

If you need ideas for Earth Day or for advocating for change, catholicclimatecovenant.org is a great place to begin. You can also Google the text of “Laudato Si'” and read it prayerfully. Climate change is a major spiritual challenge of our day and as Catholics we are called as a community to respond.

Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.