Earth Day fell on a Sunday this year, giving friars and ministries throughout the Province a ready opportunity to mark April 22 and remember how St. Francis — a nature-lover and conservationist — might have commemorated the occasion.
“St. Francis certainly did not have the benefit of understanding the universe and creation in the way that we do,” wrote John Anglin, OFM, on his blog for Earth Day.
“But his beautiful Canticle of the Creatures, which praises God, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water, shows a realization that we are part of creation. All created things are brother and sister to us. We are not separate entities placed above creation.”
John further reminded people that all are responsible to care for God’s gifts. ”This calls us to see all around us as a gift to be returned to God in at least as good a condition as God first gave it to us. This includes our own bodies and all the good things around us.”
Around the Province, parishes and ministries helped care for creation on Earth Day in a variety of ways.
In Silver Spring, Md., members of St. Camillus Parish’s Latino Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation committee decorated the altar with white lilies, hydrangeas and azaleas and a large painting depicting the earth teaming with diverse creatures. Above the altar hung a sign with the phrase “God’s creation: handle it with care” in several languages, according to Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, chair of the Province’s JPIC Directorate. “Such was the liturgical ambiance at St. Camillus Church’s annual Earth Day celebration,” he said.
Some 300 parishioners stopped by an Earth Day table at the back of the church, signing the St. Francis Pledge to care for creation and learning how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
Later that day, parishioners participated in several efforts to clean up the community. Some collected trash, bottles, and plastic water containers on the Anacostia River, while others cleaned up the neighborhood surrounding the church. Jacek provided a full report on Earth Day activities.
On Long Beach Island, St. Francis of Assisi Parish marked Earth Day by declaring war on hunger, asking parishioners to plant a row in their home gardens, like a victory garden, where the food grown would be donated to local food pantries. In the future, the parish hopes to launch a community garden.
In Pompton Lakes, N.J., St. Mary’s Parish planned an Earth Day nature hike. With the original date rained out, more than 30 parishioners gathered on May 6 at Weis Ecology Center in Ringwood, N.J., to hike to the top of a mountain where views of the New York City skyline can be seen.
St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J., celebrated Earth Day with a children’s presentation of the song “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” at Sunday Masses. The celebration continued throughout the week with a series of activities at the parish’s school.
Members of an extracurricular club, Friends of Francis, visited a nearby parish’s garden, part of the Center for Environmental Transformation of Camden. There, students held chickens, toured a greenhouse, and “discovered evidence of Mother Nature’s goodness” according to Kristen Zielinski-Nalen, director of the parish’s JPIC and Hispanic ministries. Franciscan Volunteer Minister Alexandra Mancuso planned daily educational activities for students and parents to participate in together.
The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, N.C., focused on celebrating Earth Day through its Franciscan School. The day began with morning prayer in an outdoor amphitheater, built on the edge of a wetland area. This provided areas for peering into the wetlands for both meditative and educational purposes.
Following prayer, students learned about the importance of preserving wetlands and about how friars along with the parish building committee worked with architects to ensure that the wetlands were not harmed during recent construction.
Emmet Murphy, OFM, led parishioners in a blessing for newly planted blueberry bushes in the parish’s community garden. The garden donates its produce to Plant a Row for the Hungry.
In nearby Durham, parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church learned how to care for creation through a variety of exhibits at the fourth annual Earth Day Fair. Held after each Mass, the fair featured 15 exhibits, many in both English and Spanish. According to Maryann Crea, the parish’s minister to the community, “One of the highlights was our community garden exhibit, where kids could dig into work compost buckets. It was great fun!”
The parish bulletin noted: “On this day, we come together to reflect on our role as stewards of the earth in light of our Catholic faith and the teachings of St. Francis.” Exhibits included student artwork and science posters, children’s crafts, snacks from the Durham Farmers Market, educational materials and more.
In Greenville, S.C., students at St. Anthony of Padua School celebrated Earth Day with a variety of fun and educational activities including craft projects, sorting recyclables and guest speakers.
However, noted Susan Cinquemani, a member of the St. Anthony’s School Advisory Board, in a report about Earth Day activities, “while Earth Day marked a day for special activities at St. Anthony’s School, the student Garden Club works year-round on activities and workshops that positively impact our earth.”
— Wendy Healy, author of Life is Too Short: Stories of Renewal and Transformation after 9/11, is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. Rebecca Doel contributed to this article.