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Celebrating Earth Day and Integral Ecology

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province, Justice and Peace

Holy Name Province friars, ministries, and partners-in-ministry will join the worldwide Order and people around the globe in celebrating the environment and focusing on ecological initiatives to improve the health of the planet on Earth Day 2021. This April 22 marks its 51st commemoration.

Although Earth Day was established in 1970 as the one day of the year that humanity worldwide collectively raises consciousness about the state of the planet and the necessary changes for a sustainable habitat for humankind, wildlife, and nature, many Franciscans have been advocating for the environment and defending the integrity of creation for longer than that.

Earth Day 2021’s theme of “Restore Our Earth” will focus on natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovations and actions aimed at restoring the world’s ecosystems to prevent the impending disasters of climate change and environmental destruction, according to Earth Day’s website.

Since 2015 – when Pope Francis released his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” reminding people that the climate crisis is a result of a systemic disorder of society that treats life and all creation as a commodity – Catholics have been discussing and trying to live the pope’s message.

Last year, in May 2020, the Order of Friars Minor launched the “Laudato Si’” Revolution – a global campaign with nearly 50 participating institutions, including Holy Name Province, whose objective is to encourage and promote integral ecological conversion through an environmental, economic, and social transformation within Franciscan life and ministry, as well as the larger world.

Dan Horan delivered this year’s “Earth Day ‘Laudato Si’ Lecture” for Gonzaga University.

Action Platform
On May 24, 2020, the fifth anniversary of the “Laudato Si’” encyclical, Pope Francis declared a special anniversary year, which then prompted the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to present the “Laudato Si’” Action Platform. The Vatican asked various institutions to start a seven-year journey toward self-sustainability, with the goal of helping communities around the world become fully sustainable in the spirit of the integral ecology message of “Laudato Si’.”

The Action Platform, whose message the Franciscan Order will proclaim when it joins others around the world during Earth Day commemorations, intends to help seven sectors of the Church – families, economy, educational institutions, hospitals, healthcare centers, parishes and dioceses, religious orders, and other organizations – implement spiritual, organizational, socio-political, and applied action changes over a seven-year period.

Russ Testa, director of the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, is part of the team guiding the “Laudato Si’” Action Platform response of the US-6 provinces – the Franciscan communities in the United States working toward unifying by 2023.

The US-6 JPIC Committee is working in conjunction with the Revitalization and Restructuring Office of the US-6 provinces to develop its own initial launch to coincide with the May 24 launch of the Order’s “Laudato Si’” Action Platform.

This summer, the US-6 JPIC Committee members plan to work with friars and ministries to develop localized implementation strategies for participation in the Action Platform. This phase will be completed by Oct. 4, a significant date on the Franciscan calendar – the feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the end of the Season of Creation. According to Testa, “this work will set the stage for the next steps in the process based on the realities of the local fraternity and local ministry.”

Testa and his colleagues, who met last week about this initiative, are recommending a diverse number of initial action steps for friars and their partners-in-ministry – some of which include determining their level of familiarity with “Laudato Si’” and “Fratelli Tutti,” rereading and praying about both encyclicals, and praying for the success of this endeavor.

“It is a courageous undertaking that will need the awareness of God’s support to bring it to fruition,” said Testa, who noted that the US-6 action plan would likely include webinars and other initiatives. “The Action Plan is designed to implement Laudato Si’ “over a seven-year period and though there is a lot to do — and it is exciting — we will do it in a measured way that can bring lasting change.”

“The goal is to help all parts of the Catholic Church join with one another in bringing the transformative message of ‘Laudato Si’’ to the world,” said Testa, who added, “Though this encyclical is often thought of as the ‘climate change encyclical,’ its vision and invitation to change go deeper.”

Joe Nangle, OFM, co-chair of the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate, agreed that the pope’s encyclical – and the message of the “Laudato Si’” Revolution and its Action Platform – is about more than climate change.

“This is truly an invitation to transform the world,” said Joe.  “The pope is calling for a ‘social ecology’ that involves every aspect of human life. What he envisions will not come about in our lifetime. This Francis is echoing what another Francis said 800 years ago, ‘let us begin.'”

Testa said that Pope Francis reminds us in his encyclical that the climate crisis is a result of a larger systemic disorder of society that treats life and all creation as a commodity, and ignores its innate value as a gift of the Creator.

“The ‘Laudato Si’’ encyclical and the Holy Father’s most recent encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti,’ point to repairing our personal, political, and economic structures in a way that builds from the Gospel,” said Testa. “As we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been shown in stark clarity that there was much broken before the pandemic. We know that we cannot return to ‘the normal’ of pre-pandemic times if we are to be true to the Gospel. Fortuitously, the ‘Laudato Si’’Action Platform provides the Church and our world with a vehicle to build a ‘new normal.’”

Friars and HNP ministry leaders may obtain information about the Action Platform by emailing Testa.

Local Programs
Friars and ministries throughout Holy Name Province have planned events to advocate for creation during this year’s Earth Day season. Testa recommends visiting the website of Catholic Climate Covenant for information about Earth Day 2021.

In Western New York, on April 25, the third Sunday of Easter, members of St. Bonaventure Parish in Allegany will be receiving packets of bean seeds to plant in their gardens.

“One of the advantages of bean plants is that after you pick the beans you can use the plant to fertilize the earth,” said the pastor, James Vacco, OFM. “This is a reminder that as nature works to produce, it also takes care of itself by recycling. We must follow through with not just enjoying the produce from the earth, but by responsibly and conscientiously replenishing the nutrients of the earth.”

In Hartford, Connecticut, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish is sponsoring an initiative called “Our Common Home,” which will offer a Zoom program on the 51st anniversary of Earth Day and the sixth anniversary of “Laudato Si’.” All are invited – parishioners and others outside the parish – to first watch two short videos, titled “Why Some People Don’t Believe in Climate Change” (see above) and “The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change,” and then join the conversation on how parishes can combat climate change. To register for this program, which is being presented by the St. Patrick-St. Anthony Care of Creation Subcommittee of the Committee for Social Justice, use this link to generate a reply that will provide a Zoom link.

In Clemson, South Carolina, St. Andrew Parish is offering community members Earth Day-related educational materials and the opportunity to participate in different activities. In addition to creating a special information page on the parish website to catechize parishioners, the Care for Creation Committee will be distributing flyers at Sunday Masses that offer suggestions for spring gardening, according to Daniel McLellan, OFM, pastor of St. Andrew’s.

Dan said the St. Andrew youth ministry is hosting a “Walk for Water” event in conjunction with the parish’s Care for Creation Ministry to increase awareness of the global water crisis and to raise funds to support the work of Water Mission. The April 24 Walk for Water event will cover a 3.5-mile stretch, symbolic of the average distance that many people abroad have to walk to find any source of water.

“Many people around the world have to walk miles and miles to get to a water source which isn’t even clean,” according to a message in the parish bulletin. “Through our Walk for Water event, we will walk so that others don’t have to.”

From Chicago, Daniel Horan, OFM, an instructor at Catholic Theological Union, delivered this year’s “Earth Day ‘Laudato Si’ Lecture” for Gonzaga University on April 14. The presentation, “Beyond Laudato Si’: Embracing the Challenge of Franciscan Eco-Spirituality in the Age of Pope Francis,” was online and open to the public. For more information, visit this link.

Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communications for Holy Name Province.