Province Celebrates Earth Day and Beauty of God’s Creation

Johann Cuervo Around the Province

Participants of the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Don Watkins)

In his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis emphasized that “all Christian communities have an important role to play in ecological education.” Holy Name Province joined Catholics around the country this year in honoring the pontiff’s call to care for creation by holding local events at parishes, implementing green initiatives, and participating in national events like Earth Day and the People’s Climate March at the end of April. The HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office also took the opportunity to share Earth Day resources produced by the Catholic Climate Covenant.

New York
In Western New York, Jud Weiksnar, OFM, chaplain of Hilbert College in Buffalo, along with students and staff from the college joined Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to clean the Times Beach area of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor on Earth Day, April 22.

Jud Weiksnar, chaplain of Hilbert College in Buffalo, with students and staff (Photo courtesy of Jud)

“After picking up 20 garbage bags of litter, some dating back decades to the time when Times Beach was an industrial wasteland, the group took a walking tour on trails and a boardwalk straddling the wetlands,” Jud said. “Friars who previously served at St. Patrick’s or Timon High School would be amazed at how the Buffalo River has been transformed from Buffalo’s industrial ‘glory days’ 50 years ago. Now, you can see hundreds of people, including the occasional friar, on or along the Buffalo River fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and water biking.”

Jud is an active member of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization that has taken on some of the region’s biggest water challenges for more than 25 years. According to its site, “the group cleans up toxic sediment, works to eliminate sewage overflows, restores critical habitat, and advocates for the health of the Great Lakes.”

To the south, at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., April was designated Earth Month by SBU’s Campus Conservationists, a group that promises to educate and motivate the campus and its surrounding communities on local and global environmental topics.

“We promote a healthier relationship between the natural world and ourselves through recycling, clean-up, and education initiatives,” said club member Jacob Nugent. “Our long-term goal is to create a tradition at St. Bonaventure and for everyone we touch in our lives to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle.”

Some of the SBU events included The “Study of Trees” Exhibition, a four-week photographic exhibition of local trees taken in conjunction with the SBU Photography Club, a trail and community cleanup organized by the Campus Conservationists held on April 22, and the SBU’s Tree Campus USA recertification celebration. Students also got a sneak peek of the new St. Bonaventure Tree Identification trail guide.

In Brooklyn, St. Francis College participated with Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish at the annual blessing of the Gowanus Canal on April 22.  A photo of Brian Jordan, OFM, the college’s chaplain, appears with a story in the Brooklyn Tablet.

New Jersey
In Pompton Lakes, N.J., the passion for sustainability and justice for the earth has guided St. Mary Church’s Social Justice Ministry to participate for many years in several initiatives such as Franciscan Response to Fracking, Advocates for Justice, and Earth Actions.

In commemoration of Earth Day, and as part of the Lenten observance at St. Mary’s, the ministry, guided by Jackie Schramm, director, sponsored a three-week program in March and April that looked at climate change from various perspectives.

“The program opened with a showing of “Before the Flood,” a National Geographic documentary film, co-directed by and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film focuses on DiCaprio’s three-year, round-the-world expedition, looking at changes that climate scientists say are occurring due to global warming, resulting in climate change, including its effects on people on low-lying islands who are already being affected by rising sea levels,” Shirley Boardman, ministry member said. “On another evening, St. Mary’s hosted guest speaker Greg Mattison, a member of the Climate Reality Project, an organization aimed at raising awareness of, and generating action to address, climate change. This series of programs were open to the community – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – as are all programs planned by the ministry.”

In Silver Spring, Md., St. Camillus Parish’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee has undertaken numerous initiatives the last few years to make care for creation an integral part of parish life, from organizing educational events to initiating concrete actions, such as phasing out bottled water use at parish gatherings and hosting farmers markets.

According to the parish’s bulletin, this year the group hosted its annual Earth Day Fair where parishioners learned about local environmental justice efforts and joined groups that advocate for the environment. Exhibitors included Franciscan Green Solutions, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, as well as EcoTheology resources.

Parishioners also celebrated with a day of gardening and beautification at St. Camillus on April 29. “There is so much to celebrate,” said Christopher Posch, OFM, pastor. “Thanks to all who collaborated and labored in making our dreams become realities.” 

The Carolinas and South
Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, N.C., officially received its certification as a Green Sanctuary from the national GreenFaith organization. Their new banner was unveiled last week at the parish Earth Day Fair.

“Over the last two years, our parish Green Team, led by Fr. Charles Miller, OFM, has worked tirelessly to fulfill certification requirements,” said Maryann Crea, a staff member. “Immaculate Conception is the first Catholic church in North Carolina to achieve this recognition.”

Earth Day Fair at Immaculate Conception in Durham (Photo courtesy of Casey Cole)

Other green initiatives at the parish include educational workshops on solar energy and climate change, as well as the expansion of the community garden to include a new pollinator garden to protect and support insects that are vital to growing food.

St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, Va., has also received its certification as a Green Sanctuary by Greenfaith.

In Clemson, S.C., St. Andrew Parish’s Young Family Youth Group organized a hike through the Clemson Experimental Forest on April 24 and invited parishioners to a discussion on “Faith & Conservation” on April 25, exploring how religious beliefs have informed the nation’s views on conservation and the environment, according to the parish’s bulletin. The event was hosted by BUILD, a group at Clemson University where Robert Menard, OFM, is chaplain. The organization strives to connect students, faculty and community members from all faiths in dialogue and service to build a deeper appreciation of diversity.

In support of “Laudato Si’” and Earth Day, the University of Georgia Catholic Center in Athens started a “honey bee project”. In addition to the hives, located near the friary, students have begun to plant a variety of shrubs, and flowers native to Georgia to support the pollination process for the bees, said David Briones, a staff member.

Franciscans for Climate Justice
On April 29, St. Mary Church’s Social Justice Ministry was among the many groups around the Province that filled buses with parishioners for a day trip to Washington, D.C., joining more than 300,000 people in the second People’s Climate March to call attention to the climate, jobs, and justice.

Members from St. Mary’s Social Justice group at the People’s Climate March (Photo courtesy of Jackie Schramm)

Student friars Christian Seno, OFM, of Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., and Abel Garcia, OFM, of St. Joseph Friary in Chicago, joined Joseph Kotula, OFM, and Kevin Kriso, OFM, of Mt. Irenaeus, West Clarksville, N.Y., in participating in the Climate March.

“Francis wanted his brothers to ‘go among’ the people,” said Kevin. “During the march, I must have had a hundred conversations with people from many different lifestyles, beliefs and motivations. Francis always sought out what was common to make connections with people rather than divisions. The climate march was one of those chances to move away from a fragmented country to one where we realize we are all in this together, to build bridges rather than walls.”

Luis Manuel Rosado, Jason Damon, Abel Garcia, Christian Seno, Kevin Kriso, Troy Hillman and Joseph Kotula at St. Dominic’s Church before the climate march (Photo courtesy of Don Watkins)

The work of the PCM is grounded in a set of core principles that includes developing opportunities for a range of organizations and social movements to work together and join efforts to give greater visibility to the environment, according to its website.

The weeks leading up to Earth Day were full of faith events sponsored by the Franciscan Action Network, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, and other partner organizations. The HNP JPIC office shared Earth Day resources produced by the Catholic Climate Covenant focusing on the theme of “Know the Creator Through Creation.” According to CCC’s website, the program is “great for inter-generational parish programs, schools, and group interested in deepening their connection with creation and the gifts which God has given us.” 

Photos and information of many Earth Day activities around the Province are posted on the websites of the HNP ministries and Facebook page of the People’s Climate March. Resources about climate change and care for creation can be found in the Justice and Peace section of the Province’s website.

— Johann Cuervo is communications assistant for Holy Name Province.

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