“Everything is Connected,” a webinar on the 5th Anniversary of the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, took place on Sunday, June 14, 2020. “Laudato Si,” (“Praise be to You, Lord,”) are the first two words in the Tuscan dialect that intone the Canticle of Creation of St. Francis.
Speakers. Our panelists were Dr. Nancy Tuchman, Founder and Dean of the Institute for Sustainability at Loyola University, Chicago and Dr. Erin Lothes, Professor of Theology at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey and an Earth Institute Fellow at Columbia University.
Br. Kevin Cawley, Executive Director of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College and Main Representative at the United Nations for Edmund Rice International, served as Moderator.
Kevin Tuerff, of St. Francis Xavier Parish, was the Zoom host for this event and handled the technical aspects of the afternoon with great skill. Nearly 130 participants joined the presentation online.
Laudato text Photo: Ignatius Press
Global Context. At the time of the release of Laudato Si, the earth was warming at an alarming rate, and world leaders were having annual meetings about the issue assisted by periodic reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) There was also a push on the part of the United Nations to eradicate global poverty with the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030.
Pope Francis Engagement. Looking back at 2015 we can see three important markers where Pope Francis was attempting to “put his thumb” on the scale of history in the crucial interval from May through December 2015. The spring and summer revealed final text of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global commitment summarized in 17 goals following three years of deliberations at the UN. The SDGs are to serve as guidelines over the next 15 years for UN member states. They are designed to assist governments on civic priorities for sustainable development in their respective national circumstances. Member states are to report on progress at selected intervals. Pope Francis reminding all, “the cry of the earth is the cry of the poor”, had been following the UN discussions and the Holy See was an active participant at the New York meetings. The Holy Father was careful to time the release of the encyclical to support the release of the SDGs. He arranged to be in New York for the General Assembly session in September 2015, when the SDGs, known as Agenda 2030, were unanimously adopted on the day of his formal address to the General Assembly. Pope Francis went further by challenging the world leaders to a meaningful commitment on reducing global warming at the upcoming December 2015, UNFCCC- Paris Climate Conference (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).
Fifth Anniversary of Laudato Si. Here we are five years later taking a look at the impact of the encyclical. Our first two speakers were animated by Laudato Si and have incorporated it into their lives and their work. The panelists presented reports of activities at their institutions and related efforts to bring to life the teachings of Laudato Si.
Dr. Tuchman delivered a striking set of images on the extensive work underway on the campus of Loyola. Innovations include a campus Greenhouse, Aquaponics offerings, and an Urban Garden along with initiatives in a Biodiesel program and a Clean Air/ Clean Water monitoring program. The university has supported a sustainability fund for student projects, a ban on bottled water and a community farmer’s market. Dr. Lothes recalled her delight when she first heard reports that the Pope was preparing an encyclical on the environment. She has been very energized by the Pope’s message but raised concerns that there does not seem to be sufficient urgency in the political arena for the deep change that is required. She also lamented the absence of forthright engagement of the US Catholic hierarchy who seem generally preoccupied on other issues. Dr. Tuchman expanded on her comments by endorsing the phrase, “celebrate and accelerate” used by boosters of Laudato Si as we enter the anniversary year. She notes that the Catholic hierarchy was not generally enthusiastic on this issue and salutes Pope Francis for his “bravery” in so boldly taking the initiative. More of the laity need to advocate.
Dr. Lothes led us to discussion of environmental racism and the general practice of placing large public infrastructure for industrial power and waste disposal in poor urban neighborhoods leading to increases in asthma and other childhood ailments in nearby residents. Eco-justice must be addressed. We need to move to renewable and sustainable sources of energy. Such a shift can help to de-escalate this disturbing pattern of sacrifice zones for these dangerous installations in poor neighborhoods in the USA. Dr. Tuchman underlined the truth of “everything is connected.” Dr. Lothes later made the point that the laity can ask good questions about where their donations are going at the local parish. Are they still supporting the burning of fossil fuels in the parish or are we moving to safe, clean, sustainable, renewable forms of energy? There is a good rationale to give people language in the solutions that they can relate to- for example, offshore wind installations can mean more high paying employment for laid off oil workers.
Three Case Studies
The panel presentation was followed by three case studies. First presenter was Bernie Yozwiak, who is the head of the Care for Creation Team in the parish of Holy Name of Mary in Croton-on-Hudson, a town of 8,000 people along the Hudson River just north of the city. His parish team is part of the Metro NY Catholic Climate Movement. They sponsor local presentations at the parish in a program called Sustainable Sundays, they also do Interfaith work with the community – the local project for the town is called “Croton 100.”
The second case study was brought forward by Brigid McCabe, a rising senior at Notre Dame High School in mid-town Manhattan. Brigid, along with three other classmates, attended the Arrupe Leader Summit, a 3-day training course in Catholic Social Teaching addressing the concerns of the times. Brigid presented a series of slides illustrating what is going on with the young women at her high school and what plans are going forward. In Education: school assembly speakers; the Lennon Wall; in Advocacy: participation in the student strike in September; in Action: recycling and composting. The goal is to provide students with initiatives they can take up immediately, especially if the action relates directly to their future. These efforts are aided by wide use of various social media platforms familiar to young people. Brigid encourages engagement of her peers in local politics and is working on phone banks even if she is not yet old enough to vote.
We concluded with Nancy Lorence, an educator and member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan. She helped found and coordinates the Metro NY Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM). The founding group of five in her parish grew out of the Catholics organizing for the 2014 People’s Climate March; they affiliated with the Global Catholic Climate Movement in 2015 after Laudato Si was published. Nancy explained some of the background on the GCCM model with Spiritual conversion, Education as well as Advocacy and Action projects.
Gratitude. Nancy Lorence was the driving force behind this webinar presentation today and deserves our gratitude for her steadfast, purposeful organizing of this vigorous effort around Laudato Si.
Link to the Zoom recording of this Laudato Webinar including Chat box.
Additional Context on Current USA Turbulence: All participants were operating under the restrictions imposed by a response to the global pandemic of coronavirus which had been raging in New York and other states since early March. In addition, there loomed over all the horrific murder by police of George Floyd. This crime took place in Minneapolis on May 25 recorded by cell phone video and subsequently viewed by millions resulting in hundreds of national and global protests against systemic structural racism and police misconduct. “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations have continued for several weeks.
Environmental Ministry Program at St. Francis Xavier Church NYC
Metro NY Catholic Climate Covenant
Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College
Newark NJ Archdiocesan Environmental Justice Task Force
Catholic Charities of NY Department of Social and Community Development