ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A group of 12 Franciscan postulants from the six U.S. provinces along with several friars and many dozens of Catholics from across Maryland marched down Francis Street in the city of Annapolis, the state capital, on a Monday afternoon to advocate for climate justice. A street sign with the black arrow pointed: ONE WAY. Underneath, two people held up a large banner with a quote from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ that read: “The use of highly polluting fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – needs to be replaced without delay.”
Last October, the United Nations climate panel announced that we have approximately 12 years to make the far-reaching reduction in the emission of the greenhouse gases to avoid a climate catastrophe. This is the greatest life-and-death emergency in the history of human civilization. The stakes are extremely high. We are talking about the survival of many millions of people, and whether or not the life-support system of our fragile planet will be able to support future generations and the countless species of non-human organisms that are rapidly going extinct. There is only one way out of our situation: we must open our eyes, see the stark truth, and make radical changes required of us.
Making sustainable, personal choices is just the first step. As Pope Francis reminds us, a spiritual, ecological conversion must go hand-in-hand with our engagement in the social and political aspects of care for the poor and for our common home.
The message of Laudato Si’ was very much on the minds of the nearly 100 people who gathered in Annapolis on Feb. 18. The event was organized by Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home. The grassroots group of mostly laypeople which, over the past three years, has challenged both the local Church and the elected officials to be more serious in addressing the climate crisis. The postulants participated in the event to learn more about this critically important issue, to pray and to stand in solidarity with those affected the most by the human-induced, extreme and prolonged droughts, flooding and forest fires.
The event, which took place at the local church, began with the teach-in sponsored by several faith-based advocacy groups, including Franciscan Action Network. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, helped put together a panel of speakers from several Catholic parishes in Maryland. They spoke about the dire impact of climate change on the countries of Central America and Africa, the rising sea levels in the local Chesapeake Bay, and the negative health effects caused by air pollution.
William Dinges, a professor of religion and culture at The Catholic University of America, spoke about how the Catholic faith calls all believers and people of good will to work together to protect the planet. Citing the papal encyclical Gaudium et Spes, Dr. Dinges emphasized that we are to “read the signs of the times” and do our part to safeguard our planet’s climate.
Afterward, one of the leaders of the Interfaith Power & Light offered a legislative briefing on several environmental bills in the Maryland House Assembly. One of them was Clean Energy Jobs Acts which calls for making drastic reductions in the use of dirty fossil fuels and investing in the training, especially for the women and the minority groups to help them benefit from the green jobs initiatives. Another bill proposed replacing school buses that use diesel fuel with electric ones that that zero-emissions.
The event also featured a prayer vigil for our common home. A few postulants led everyone in a beautiful song that celebrated our Christian call to safeguard God’s creation.
Afterward, several Franciscan friars and postulants joined in the ecological march across the city of Annapolis to the state house. From there, about 60 members of Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home went to meet with their local officials to advocate in favor of climate justice.
When asked to comment on his experience in Annapolis, Franciscan postulant Neil Pavao replied: “Coming together to work on the issues surrounding climate change presents a great opportunity for ecumenical initiatives. We all share the same home, and it is important to fight for it together.”
His classmates Fritz Newburger and Daniel Samsel also commented on how caring for God’s creation was something deeply intertwined with their Franciscan vocation. “We cannot allow our planet, her sacred soil and waters, to be treated as a means to an end, as a mere resource,” Fritz said. “We must ensure that [the earth] receives respect as a sacred, life-giving incarnation of God.”
Another postulant, Daniel Samsel, expressed his amazement at seeing people coming together to safeguard our common home. He also spoke about a strong sense of solidarity and magnitude of the event. “There was a kind of reciprocation and real commitment, a living out of the passage from Scripture ‘If one part suffers, all suffer together.’ (1 Cor. 12:26)” Daniel noted.
Mike Specht, a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, is a member of the interprovincial postulancy program in Silver Spring, Md., where Fr. Jacek is stationed.
- “Care for Creation: Hearing Earth’s Cry and Responding with Hope” – Nov. 13, 2018, HNP Today
- “Twelve Men Welcomed into Franciscan Postulancy Program” – Sept. 5, 2018, HNP Today
- “Friars’ Care for Creation Captures Media attention” – May 4, 2016, HNP Today