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Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home And The U.S. Catholic Church Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska June 27-30, 2019

All Photos by Kevin Cawley unless otherwise noted.
Youth Attendees Youth Attendees

This event gathered over 230 environmental leaders in the US Catholic Church to outline a way forward for Laudato Si on the US Catholic landscape, including its vision, best practices and future actions. This meeting was intended to be an opportunity to learn more about Laudato Si and how to contribute to its integration in parish, school, religious community, or Catholic institution.

Campus Overpass Campus Overpass

The conference vision included an expansion of hope. The climate crisis has deepened around the globe in these past few months and the United Nations will convene an emergency climate summit this September to ramp up ambition from member states to reduce the global consumption of fossil fuels releasing harmful emissions. Creighton University and the Catholic Climate Covenant under the direction of Dan Misleh must be commended for the organizing and conducting of this timely gathering. Participants come away well-fortified to engage their local institutions in raising the alarm and forming potent responses. Key takeaways were noted from the plenaries and eight ministerial tracks: Adult Faith Formation, Advocacy, Creation Care Teams, Energy Management, Higher Education, Liturgy, School Education, and Young Adult Ministry.

University Chapel University Chapel

Dan DiLeo, Catholic Climate Covenant Consultant and assistant professor and director of the Program of Justice Studies and Peace at Creighton University led the conference.

President of Creighton, Fr. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J. welcomed all and reminded the audience that from the papacy of John Paul II, the ecological crisis has been recognized as a moral issue. He cited Gen. 2:15 : "Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it."

The opening keynote address by Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, laid out an argument for climate change to become "a central priority" for the U.S. Catholic Church. The model of the great poem of Milton, “Paradise Lost” framed the Bishop’s argument: the drama of the fall and rise the human. Titled "Paradise Lost: The Urgent Summons of Laudato Si' to the American People at This Moment in Our History," the bishop used John Milton's poem "Paradise Lost" as a frame to examine these estrangements — from God, nature, one another and truth itself — that have broken the relationship between people today and "the earth that is our common home."

Participants Networking Participants Networking

Bishop McElroy called Laudato an 'urgent summons' to the American people. "Laudato Si' both unmasks our estrangement from the natural world and points to the pathway forward for us to move from alienation toward healing and the renewal of the earth. The encyclical is a “call to arms for those who would rescue our bruised planet from the forces that deplete and destroy it," McElroy said. "But Laudato Si' is so much more than this. For in its delineation of an integral human ecology, it emphasizes that the illnesses that plague our world on so many levels are interrelated, and that progress in any one dimension requires attending to the wholeness of the human person and the human family just as it attends to the wholeness of our planet earth."

The current fascination with a technological paradigm is one example of the human effort at mastery of the created world rather than humble engagement. We know that the “St. Francis response” was deeply respectful of the created world; very different from the technological response we are witnessing.

Plenary Session Plenary Session

Pope Francis reminds us that solidarity is not simply social but ethical. We need now an initiative to empower children to summon hearts and souls to remind us of the spiritual identity of nature. Adam’s greatest pain in Milton was seeing the pain he brought down on his children. When Michael led Adam down the hill out of Paradise he lamented he had damaged his children. Later, in “Paradise Regained”, the first paradise had failed but now a fairer paradise for our savior has come down.

Megan Goodwin is Associate Director in office of government relations for the USCCB. She is the link to congress for the Bishops’ conference. Current initiatives include: USCCB backs carbon tax bill by Congress member Rooney of Florida. Bishops of Florida have met with Florida members of Congress. Megan urges U.S. Catholics to engage with local and federal leaders to keep them accountable.

Dr. Erin Lothes Dr. Erin Lothes

Dr. Erin Lothes, Associate Professor of Theology at College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey spoke of the upcoming Amazon Synod taking place in Rome in October. Focus on ecosystem. She reports that the preparation documents include good language. She reminds us that links to the landscape can bring the soul to peace. Local church of critical importance. Spirituality of LS (sections 11 and 66) is relational in its affection. We share Earth with all creatures so we don’t dominate. But we live with a dirty and dangerous energy system.

Program Program

Africa challenges cited by Erin. Nigeria in particular is facing grave ecological danger due to the fossil fuel extraction that has long impacted the country. Technology has taken first position. The environmental teachings of the Catholic Church have yet to penetrate many governments in Africa at the policy level, even in those places with a strong Catholic presence in the education sector.

Earth rise - view form the moon. Earthrise Image Credit: NASA, Apollo 8 Crew, Bill Anders

Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam represented Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, the office responsible for disseminating the lessons of Laudato Si. He has recently published a book, The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si. He noted that 2020 is 50th anniversary of Earth Day. He mentions Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring, a pivotal book from 1962 as well as the now famous NASA Earthrise photograph taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968.

The Laudato Conference at Creighton held many rich discussions and clearly made a deep impression on those of us who attended. Excellent presentations were offered by Rev. Kenneth R. Himes, OFM, on “Love in Action”, Professor Sacoby Wilson on ecojustice and Sr. Pat Siemen, O.P., founder of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University, who was very enthused about the work of Fr. Thomas Berry.

Sr. Pat Siemen Sr. Pat Siemen, O.P.

This brief note in the Berry Forum web pages will I hope lead the reader to pursue further the lessons learned in Omaha. Links to the Catholic Climate Covenant are given here to speed your inquiry.