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Safeguarding the Environment by Plunging, Lobbying

Jacek and others who jumped into the Potomac River to advocate for Mother Earth. (Photo courtesy of Jacek Orzechowski)

Using a river, a gathering at a state capital and a presentation, friars and their partners-in-ministry have participated in a variety of ways this year to learn about and to advocate for a cleaner environment, and make their voices heard.

“As our communities witness increasingly unmistakable signs of global climate catastrophe in the worsening levels of natural disasters and other scientific data, Franciscans and Franciscan- hearted people cannot help but to work for solutions that end destructive patterns of consumption and environmental devastation,” said Russ Testa, director of the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office. “We cannot help ourselves because we experience a real sense of belonging and existential dependence with one another and all of creation through our relationship with God.”

On Feb. 1, a group of parishioners from St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J., including Gonzalo Torres, OFM, pastor, went to Trenton, their state capital, to share their concern for the earth. They participated in a rally to support two clean energy bills that would mandate a transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2035. The bills were introduced by two government leaders, one of whom – Assemblyman Tim Eustace – served as a guest speaker at St. Mary’s three-week series on climate change last year.

“The most urgent challenge of our age, according to Pope Francis, is the issue of climate change and inequality,” said Jackie Schramm, the parish’s social ministry director and founder of Franciscan Response to Fracking. “As time is running out, we applaud our New Jersey representatives who are taking serious leadership to move New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy.”

Parishioners from the Province’s Pompton Lakes parish were among hundreds fighting for the environment on Feb. 1. Shown in this photo are Gonzalo, center, and Jackie Schramm, second from right. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Schramm)

Supporting Planet and Future Generations
Thirteen members of Franciscan Response to Fracking, a group formed in 2011, traveled south on a chilly Thursday to learn and to express their views. They held signs, they sang and they spoke with others who just as passionately want to help the earth.

“We are a faith-based community,” Gonzalo told NJBIZ. “As Christians, we believe that we have to protect our environment and our planet – the house that God has given to us. For us, it is very important to protect our planet. We support this bill for our children and for the children of our children.”

“We have been particularly working on the issue of climate change since 2015,” said Schramm. “We presented Pope Francis’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si’’ at many venues. This is an issue that we are working on front and center. We are very excited about this bill.”

“This is just the beginning,” said Schramm in a speech on Feb. 1. ” Time’s up on fossil fuels. Time’s up on fracking our earth, water and air.  Time’s up on ignoring our planet’s warnings.”

A video of the Feb. 1 rally can be found on the NJ OFF Foil Fuels Facebook page, which also contains photos of the event.

Because of their concern for the environment and their aim to inform people, the Pompton Lakes staff and parishioners created the EarthActions.org website in 2015. It provides information about fracking, climate change, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The previous weekend, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of Silver Spring, Md., and several Franciscan postulants braved the frigid waters of National Harbor to help raise money for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and Tent of Nations. CCAN  is a grassroots environmental organization working to end our deadly addiction to dirty fossil fuels and promote climate justice.  The Tent of Nations is a peace-making project in Bethlehem, West Bank, that seeks to bring a positive change by defending the Palestinian land through non-violent means, and cultivation of olive trees and the virtues of peace and sustainability. On Jan. 27, the Franciscans joined close to 200 other people in the Polar Bear Plunge. Click here to see images from the event.

This is the seventh year in the row for that Jacek has participated in this event. “I take a plunge to raise funds and to animate others to take action for climate justice.  And this is the coolest thing about it.”

 Patrick Carolan (far right), executive director of Franciscan Action Network, Jacek (third from right), and FAN board members who participated in the Polar Bear Plunge. (Photo courtesy of FAN)

Working Collaboratively
In Virginia, a presentation was given by Testa, whose office is near Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22 as part of the Theology on Tap program of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle. During the event, which was organized by Henry Fulmer, OFM, attendees heard Testa describe the challenges faced by society and action steps that can be taken to help the environment.

“As people of faith, Mr. Testa challenged us to face the challenges of climate change with hope, based on realism, as we answer the call from Pope Francis in ‘Laudato Si’’ for personal, political and social conversion,’ said Fred Miller, a parishioner. “While we continue to make personal and family changes, it is time for community conversion to create lasting change in the environment. Though we should honor our history and tradition of individualism, we need to work more collaboratively for the common good. We need resilient and supportive communities of faith to collectively make hard choices, find common ground and advocate for needed public policies.

“As a society, we have been increasing greenhouse gas emissions, use of natural resources, pollution and waste for decades,” he added. “ For the sake of future generations, this pattern needs to be reversed in the next two score years.

“The Lenten season affords opportunities for repentance of sins against the environment, and acts of penance and self-denial to modify our lifestyles and promote community action to care for the environment,” Miller said. “Mr. Testa called us to action – first in our personal lifestyles, homes, businesses and local neighborhoods. As we expand our relationships, we must expand this action to our cities, counties and beyond. Municipalities and even a few states are already taking steps to be carbon neutral and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in just and sustainable ways. There is no better time to reflect on what we need to do to be good stewards of our common home.”

Just three months ago, the Franciscans joined leaders of more than 150 Catholic religious communities, colleges, national organizations, and health care providers sent a letter to President Donald Trump and members of Congress, asking them to take specific steps to reduce the impact of climate change. In the letter, issued Nov. 16, the signers affirm the Church’s longstanding commitment to caring for creation and the poor. They urged government leaders to fund the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, meaningfully participate in the deliberations of the UNFCCC, and honor U.S. commitments to the Green Climate Fund.

Resources about caring for creation can be found in the Justice and Peace section of HNP.org.

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

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