Climate Change Defines Earth Day Activities

HNP Communications Around the Province

Earth Day is a special time of year for many Franciscans — a time to place emphasis on care for creation as St. Francis did. Friars and their partners-in-ministry joined the global community in commemorating this year’s Earth Day, which took place April 22.

The theme, according to the website, was climate change, a topic known well by the Province’s many justice and peace advocates. People around the world marked the day by pulling invasive weeds, handing out saplings, mobilizing flash mobs, and encouraging others to be mindful of the environment.

The HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office near Washington reminded ministries that climate change was among its priorities. With an email that said, “Earth Day 2013 – Climate Change Needs a Solution,” the JPIC office urged ministries to sign on to a letter urging President Barack Obama to hold a climate change summit.

The Franciscan Action Network has been promoting the issue, and Franciscans, in coalition with other Catholics, are invited to add their voices to this call via a sign-on letter. Information about  the effort is available on the Climate Summit website.

This year’s Earth Day was especially significant because the recently elected pope had already implored people to be good stewards of the planet.

Brother Earth Day
In suburban Washington, Kevin Downey, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, said the parish had a full schedule of activities the Sunday prior to Earth Day, in an event called Brother Earth Day. “Pope Francis has asked us to be protectors of one another and of the environment. Brother Earth Day will inspire us to do just that,” Kevin said.

After the morning and noon Masses, parishioners perused information tables with goodies to sample, including homemade, vegetarian muffins, cookies and brownies made from organic, local and/or fair trade ingredients, as well as handouts, displays, and demonstrations from which to learn.

The parish also offered information on conducting a home-energy audit, working with the utility company on energy conservation, and setting up a home composting system.

The parish also planted a community flower and vegetable garden and listened to a presentation at 10 a.m. by local environmental leaders. The church will continue to collect and recycle old cell phones, shoes, printer cartridges, eye glasses, and batteries.

Once again, the parish was accepted into the GreenFaith Certification Program, the country’s first interfaith environmental certification program for houses of worship. New Jersey-based GreenFaith ( is an internationally recognized interfaith environmental coalition.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish is the first house of worship in Virginia to enter this prestigious certification program. Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples gain recognition as environmental leaders when they receive GreenFaith certification by carrying out more than two dozen environmental activities over two years, according to Kevin.

Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C., where Lawrence Hayes, OFM, is pastor, also held an environmental fair after Masses on the weekend before Earth Day. In addition, the church introduced its new community garden on the grounds of church/school campus, where construction will begin later this spring with the first planting. The grand opening of the garden is planned for the feast of St. Francis in October, according to Maryann Crea, minister to the community

River Clean-up Day
At St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., more than 30 teens and adults spent the Saturday before Earth Day cleaning up trash along the Anacostia River at Bladensberg Waterfront Park, pictured above.

In Western New York, students at St. Bonaventure University, one of the two New York colleges sponsored by HNP, celebrated Earth Day by cleaning up the campus. On April 26, Arbor Day in New York State, the university will have a tree-planting with a blessing by F. Edward Coughlin, OFM.

Sr. Suzanne Kush, who runs the campus’ Franciscan Center for Social Concerns, said that the students were also recycling and working on promoting a concern about keeping plastics out of landfills by supporting the sustainability Move Out project. “Our effort is not just one day but has been most of this semester,” she said.

Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., held a campus clean-up to mark Earth Day, along with its Campus Sustainability Day.

Kristen Zielinski-Nalen, JPIC ministry coordinator at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J., went to City Hall on Earth Day to see pastor Jud Weiksnar, OFM, receive an award from the city for the church’s environmental and advocacy work. Children in the parish school were given a seedling to take home and plant. After Mass on the Sunday before Earth Day, the parish showed the movie “Earth” for students in CCD classes.

In addition, said Zielinski-Nalen, parishioners were asked to make a pledge for an action they can take for conservation or preservation. Parishioners, she said, were pledging to, among other behavior changes, turn off lights, reduce the amount of water used, and recycle more.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Raleigh, N.C., where Mark Reamer, OFM, is the pastor, began planting its community garden on Earth Day. The community will also hold several meetings to raise awareness on climate change. Over the next two months, the parish has planned “Why Should People of Faith Care About Climate Change?,” “The State of Climate Change Science and Policy,” and “Individual and Political Climate Change Solutions: What You Can Do,” featuring Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of St. Camillus Church.

At St. Mary Church, Pompton Lakes, N.J., a group of 25 to 30 parishioners and friends from Franciscan Response to Fracking, a group concerned about hydraulic fracking, and JustFaith chose to have a ceremony about environmental issues. “It was a beautiful very creative ceremony that the committee put together,” according to Jackie Schramm, the parish’s director of social justice ministry, that led to a lively discussion.

The program opened with “Song at the Center,” with a procession of the four earth elements, and a reflective reading on Leonardo Boff’s discussion on “the good life,” according to Schramm. The exhortation was an excerpt from The Earth Chapter. The ceremony ended with “Canticle of the Sun,” and was followed by refreshments and fellowship.

“This was a most welcome time-out to reflect on their work and seemed most appropriate,” Schramm added. In the next few weeks, the parish plans to show the movie “Gasland,” which is about fracking.

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.

Editor’s note: Resources about climate change can be found on the Justice and Peace page of the Province’s website.