Finding God in Care for Creation at St. Camillus Parish

Bob Simon Around the Province

Following Holy Name Province’s last Provincial Chapter in 2014, Pope Francis released his encyclical ‘Laudato Sí.’ This document breathed new life into efforts for care for creation and climate change. In response to Pope Francis’ encouragement, most Provincial ministries and friaries engaged in activities and actions to study and put into action the pontiff’s thoughts and ideas. One of the key messages of the encyclical was the need to create opportunities to address issues of environmental degradation and climate change. This summer, friars will be gathering at a retreat titled “Living Laudato Si: The Most Franciscan Encyclical Ever.”  

The following article, written by a member of HNP’s St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., captures past, present and ongoing efforts by the community to live out their commitment to creation care as the pope’s letter reminds us. A version of the piece ran in the parish’s April 23 bulletin.

Scientists are considering a new name – the “Anthropocene” – for the geologic era in which we now find ourselves, an era in which numerous geologically significant conditions and processes on a global scale are being profoundly altered by human activities. These include:

  • Changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans, and soils — with significant human-caused perturbations in the global cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus
  • Changed environmental conditions generated by these perturbations, including global warming, ocean acidification, and spreading oceanic “dead zones”
  • Changes in the Earth’s biosphere – both on land and in the sea – because of habitat loss, predation, and the spread of invasive species

The growing realization among scientists that humans are exercising a decisive and negative influence on our planetary “life support” systems has been matched by a similar realization in global religious communities that this influence is a profoundly moral issue. In fact, the Nobel Prize winner who coined the term “anthropocene” acknowledged in 2011, “This name change stresses the enormity of humanity’s responsibility as stewards of the Earth.” In the Catholic tradition, this moral dimension has been articulated by recent popes, from Paul VI to Francis. As the Church states in its official Compendium of Social Doctrine, “Care for the environment represents a challenge for all of humanity. It is a matter of a common and universal duty that of respecting a common good, destined for all.”

Caring for Creation on Many Levels
As a parishioner at St. Camillus, I have been challenged through the preaching here to look at caring for creation at a variety of levels – of moral principle, in the political choices I make, and in the details of how I live my daily life. I have been inspired by actions and initiatives taken by our pastoral staff and fellow parishioners who have worked toward making St. Camillus a place that puts care for creation into practice.

In his preaching, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, who recently left on sabbatical, frequently drew connections between scripture and the practice of environmental responsibility in our daily lives and our societal choices. A few years back, he worked with parishioners to install energy-efficient lighting in the church, reducing our electricity consumption while improving the quality of lighting in our main worship space.

Over 20 years ago, the Knights of Columbus – generously and without fanfare – paid to install new boilers in the school/office complex, which are now carefully maintained in top condition by P.J. Fitzgerald. On April 27, we were informed that St. Francis International School on the St. Camillus campus received Energy Star certification from the EPA for the energy performance of its building. Certification means that its benchmarked and independently verified energy performance is in the top quarter of similar buildings nationwide. SFIS is actually in the top ten percent of K-12 schools. It’s the first Catholic K-12 school in Maryland and the Archdiocese of Washington to be so recognized. Only a handful of Catholic schools around the country have achieved certification over the years.

Our Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Committee has undertaken numerous initiatives to make care for creation an integral part of our parish life, from organizing educational events, to initiating concrete actions such as phasing out bottled water at parish gatherings and hosting our Sunday Farmers Market.

Exploring Ways to Improve Energy Efficiency
Alan Magan has helped incorporate care for creation into the curriculum at St. Francis International School, including a school garden program for the third-grade students. And, under the leadership of Michael Johnson, OFM, and our JPIC Committee, a host of parishioners have worked over the past decade to beautify St. Camillus’ property, reducing rainwater runoff in the process.

Efforts to promote care for creation at St. Camillus continue. Walt Madigosky is exploring how to add insulating panes to the windows of the church to improve its energy efficiency and comfort level. St. Camillus has joined the EPA ENERGY STAR Congregations program as a partner – the second Catholic parish in the archdiocese to do so. As a program partner, St. Camillus will benefit from free technical assistance in formulating further steps to improve its environmental performance. Starting in May, St. Camillus will be among the first parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington to make its electricity purchases carbon-neutral. Under a new three-year contract, St. Camillus will buy enough wind power-generated electricity to meet all its needs, while saving over 13 percent from the cost it currently pays for electric power. This will qualify St. Camillus for recognition as an EPA Green Power partner, the first parish in the archdiocese to be so recognized.

The story of care for creation at St. Camillus is rich and varied, the result of numerous contributions from a wide range of parishioners. The above account probably does not capture them all. To me, the many ways in which parish staff and members have contributed to care for creation here at St. Camillus is an apt illustration of the richness of the metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ. Many gifts, mostly in the form of time and talent, have moved us to where we are today. I look forward to learning more and to being further inspired in this area by the array of talents that the St. Camillus community nurtures and calls forth.

— Bob Simon is a St. Camillus Parish volunteer who retired from the federal government last year after spending most of it associated with energy and science policy. He and his wife Karen, currently a member of the HNP Ongoing Formation Committee, joined the parish in 2001.

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