More than 20 friars participated recently in an interprovincial retreat in northern California. Among them was Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, who describes in this article the importance of working together to care for the environment.
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — Over two years have passed since Pope Francis promulgated his encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” It is the most Franciscan papal encyclical ever. Arguably, it might also be the most consequential encyclical ever written, given the fact that the human race has now reached several tipping points that put into serious question the very survival of human civilization and the viability of the life-support system of our fragile planet. To stop us from this impending ecocide and collective suicide, Pope Francis has issued a clarion calling humanity to come to its senses. He challenges us to a deeper reflection and reexamination of who we are and what is our mission as a faith community.
As I look back over the last two years, the institutional Church in the United States has responded to that challenge – for the most part – in a half-hearted, lukewarm way. Addressing climate justice and income inequality, upholding the consistent ethics of life – these have not been a high priority. Notwithstanding some isolated, local efforts, the prophetic and revolutionary call of Pope Francis in “Laudato Si’” have yet to penetrate and take a deeper root in our Franciscan fraternities, parishes, and schools. The frontal assault on basic values of truth and integrity, solidarity and common good that we now witness in our country goes hand-in-hand with the public policies that shred the fabric of our society and erode our planet’s life-support system. Our country and the world are in desperate need of a new, integrated vision of the common good. However, unless we as Franciscans become renewed and evangelized by the spirituality of “Laudato Si’,” we will not be equipped to serve as a catalyst of the radical renewal of our Church and society that is needed.
As the Franciscan friars in the United States continue to deliberate on the next step in the process of restructuring our provinces, I am very encouraged by the initiative of St. Barbara Province, which hosted the recent five-day retreat “Living “Laudato Si’.” The retreat took place from July 9 to July 14 at St. Francis Retreat Center, San Juan Bautista. Twenty-two friars took part in it, mostly from St. Barbara Province, with some limited participation from the Conventual friars as well as the OFM provinces of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart and Holy Name. The retreat was directed by Br. Keith Warner, OFM. Br. Rufino Zaragoza, OFM, a renown Franciscan musician, composer, and liturgist, along with Becky Ramirez, a lay leader who is also a talented musician, coordinated beautiful music and liturgies at the retreat.
The “Care For Our Common Home” retreat drew on the Franciscan spirituality of “Laudato Si’” and helped the friars imagine how they might live their vocations as brothers to all creation. In the mornings of the retreat, Br. Keith addressed some of the classic themes in our Franciscan tradition, such as praise, love, penance, the pursuit of beauty, and ecological vocation.
The afternoons were typically spent in silent prayer, with personal or fraternal reflections on their relationship with the earth, air, and water. Evenings featured guided meditations, fraternal reflection and communal prayers focused on creation spirituality. One particular evening, a friar of St. Barbara Province inspired us all with his stories about his past involvement with the struggle of the farm workers and about the wisdom he had gained through his ministry among lay leaders such as Cesar Chavez.
Personally, I am very grateful to St. Barbara Province for their great hospitality and their leadership in hosting a wonderful “Laudato Si’” retreat. It was a beautiful, spiritually rich experience. It has allowed me and many other friars to prayerfully read and meditate on the wisdom of Pope Francis’ encyclical. In addition, the retreat has energized me to reach out to others – friars and lay partners-in-ministry. I am convinced that together we can do a lot to help thousands of other people respond to the signs of the times, act on our Franciscan tradition, and assist in the renewal of the Franciscan life and mission in the United States.
Here are a few suggestions on what you can do as a friar or lay leader:
- Help integrate “Laudato Si’” into the liturgy. What we choose to sing in church on Sunday matters. Ask your local music director to consider using a beautiful new resource based on “Laudato Si’.” It was highly recommended by Br. Rufino Zaragoza, OFM. You can order it online at https://www.ocp.org/en-us/collections/pg/G30
- Take advantage of the Catholic Climate Covenant, which offers “Laudato Si’”-inspired “Homily Helps” for each Sunday. At the end of the above document, you can find a selection of the Prayers of the Faithful that you could use on Sunday.
- Become an informed consumer with a conscience. The choices we make about what to eat ought to reflect the Gospel values of justice and care for our common home. Our oceans are dying as they absorb more and more heat and CO2. Overfishing is also a major factor in exacerbating this destructive trend. But you can do something about it. Consult the National Seafood Consumer Guide. Share it with other friars and lay leaders at your ministry. It’s a great opportunity to help those around you put “Laudato Si’” into action and evangelize.
- The Feast of St. Francis on October 4 will be here before you know it. Soon, your parish, school or local fraternity will begin preparing to celebrate it. Be proactive and think outside of the usual silos. In addition to sharing the above resources with your local music, faith formation or youth ministry leaders, you can suggest specific opportunities for people to express their love for the Creator through civic and political dimensions of love (Laudato Si’ Chapter V: Civic and Political Love #228-231). For example, you may want to spotlight in your homily, parish bulletin or parish website faith or civic organizations such as Citizens Climate Lobby or League of Conservation Voters.
Let us remember that actions on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world are a constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel. There is too much at stake for us to remain on the sidelines in the life-and-death struggle for the life of the poor and of the future generations. May we not give in to the fear of alienating some people who might misconstrue our Gospel witness in the service of truth, justice and life with partisan politics. Christ calls us to rebuild God’s world that is falling into ruin. “Laudato Si’” helps us to respond to that call. This is a time when the Franciscan witness is so greatly needed. Let us fall in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi because up until now, we have done nothing.
— Fr. Jacek, parochial vicar at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., from 2008 until 2017, has been a member of the HNP Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate for 17 years and served as the group’s chair for the last three years.