Immaculate Conception Parishioners Learn More about Environmental Stewardship

Sue Concannon Features

DURHAM, N.C. — Keepers of the Earth, an adult study group at Immaculate Conception Parish here, celebrated the July 4th holiday in an unusual manner. The Festival for the Eno River, an annual event in Durham, was the perfect setting to work with others toward becoming more faithful stewards of God’s creation.

The Keepers course explores the deep connection between ecology and the Catholic faith. It used the river festival “as a means to express a message to the Durham community”, explained Jacek Orzechowski. “The goal is to integrate eco-spirituality into our practice of faith and encourage a right relationship with all God’s creation.”

Participating members invited festival attendees to help create a banner to honor the beauty of nature. Two eight-foot cloth banners were respectfully decorated with oil chalk drawings made by children as young as two years old, along with young adults and grandparents.

Artists created a blue heron, dragonfly and chipmunk representing creatures from the land, sea, and air. Words of hope were expressed from festival attendees as far away as Peru. “We can extend the message and we’re part of a bigger world,” said two visitors to the booth. The banners will be displayed at Immaculate Conception in the near future.

Exploring the Relationship Between Faith and Conservation
Festival-goers also explored educational materials on the relationship between faith and conservation. A statue of St. Francis and a poster of the earth proclaiming, “Fragile, Handle with Care” welcomed festival attendees to the booth to browse through a display of books, videos, and quotes from saints and theologians.

One participant expressed surprise upon learning of the rich heritage of Catholic tradition and social teachings on the environment. The study team and several attendees discussed how Pope John Paul had identified the environment as a key social issue for our time, a theme that he continued to emphasize throughout his papacy.

This was the first time a church group had participated in the environmental festival. Other groups brought displays on sustainable building materials, forest protection, solar collectors, and the geography of North Carolina.

All festival-goers became at least short-term environmentalists when they tossed their garbage at this “trash-free” event. Festival volunteers tend trash bins making sure that anything recyclable is recycled or composted, rather than go to a landfill. Table utensils are made of biodegradable potato starch or wheat; even the straws were made of corn sugar.

What the Keepers of the Earth Seminar Does
Last year, 14 people completed the Keepers of the Earth seminar, which was developed by a team from the Immaculate Conception and modeled after Just Faith with a specific focus on the care of creation. The group explored topics such as the ecological themes in the Old and New Testament, the Franciscan view of creation, eco-theology and the sacraments, biodiversity, and Catholic social teachings on the environment.

In addition to Keepers of the Earth seminar, the parish has recently formed an Environmental Stewardship Committee. The committee works to galvanize our church’s path to a corporate ecological conversion. A critical and ongoing examination of the way we use energy, paper products, land around the church and allocate money, has led to a set of specific recommendations about what we as a church community ought to do to reflect the Franciscan view of creation in our corporate witness.

In addition, the Keepers of the Earth and the environmental stewardship committee have already begun planning for a parish-wide fair in the spring 2008, which will focus on raising the awareness of the deep connection between our faith and the concern for the earth. The fair will also provide the parishioners with the specific examples of how to live lives in a more sustainable way, respectful of the integrity of God’s creation.

— Sue Concannon is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church, Durham, N.C.