By José Luis Elias and Marilyn Kott
Over 2,600 people attended the virtual conference “Laudato Si and the U.S. Catholic Church” June 27-29, engaging in important discussions of how Catholics in the U.S. can better implement Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home” and its teaching on climate change.
The conference did much to educate Catholics on this initiative. It is part of a series of three conferences organized by Catholic Climate Covenant and Creighton University. The first conference was held in 2019 in Omaha, Nebraska, and the final one will be in 2023.
The message that the conference most hoped to communicate is the same that Pope Francis emphasizes in Laudato Si and the one he often voices: that care for creation is for every Catholic individual and organization in the world, not just for people who are interested. Even more, the Pope’s invitation is offered to all people of good will from around the globe. The Pope has challenged all of us to a seven-year journey to become environmentally sustainable in the spirit of Laudato Si.
The conference opened with a beautiful message of challenging hope delivered by the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich. To close the conference, Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio used the ideas of Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to encourage a greater commitment to take care of creation.
The conference also featured talks on how to implement Laudato Si in eight areas: advocacy, creation care teams, colleges and universities, parochial schools, preaching, communications and media, environmental justice, and youth and young adults.
In the Diocese of San Bernardino, The Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Redlands was among a list of 23 recognized as Creation Care “Champions” in the U.S. The listing of Creation Care Champions was made to help all creation care teams reach out to each other for inspiration and help (visit the Catholic Climate Covenant website for more information).
The environmental justice seminar within the conference contained powerful testimonies from neighborhood organizers who are trying to stop the localized pollution created by plastic factories. The presenters of the seminar were from an area of Louisiana called “Cancer Alley,” a group of historically black neighborhoods where plastics are manufactured, resulting in pollution that is killing both people and wildlife.
The presenters made two points: first, that making and disposing of plastics is poisoning our world, and second, that the residents who are against bringing these new factories to their neighborhoods aren’t being heard. The seminar prompted the question: Do we have similar situations or stories in our own neighborhoods?
At this point, we can ask ourselves, what exactly is the role that Catholics have in the care of creation? Philip Sakimoto, a former NASA official, now a head of the University of Notre Dame’s academic excellence program, said in his overview of climate science, “If we can move Catholics in every corner of the globe to become active and vocal about climate change, we could quite literally change the future of our planet. Concerned Catholics have the power to do that!”
How can Catholics get started? You can visit the Laudato Si’ Action Platform and register to pledge your commitment to develop your own Laudato Si’ plan (the registration form is at laudatosiactionplatform.org/pledge-your-commitment/). You will be sent resources which will help you plan your activities and share with others. The Vatican is hoping that we’ll all pledge by Oct. 4, which is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of creation.
The Season of Creation will run again from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4. This will be a great time for all of us to renew our fraternity and care commitment with all of creation, in preparation for our seven-year journey. Consider thinking about activities you and your community can plan to promote care for creation.
We hope that the education efforts made by our Diocese and its parish communities can form concerned Catholics that have the power to change the future of our planet!
José Luis Elias is the Director of the Office of Education and Formation of the Diocese of San Bernardino. Marilyn Kott volunteers at the Creation Care ministry at The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.