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By Luis Minvielle

When Pope Francis issued his encyclical Laudato Si in 2015, he called for parishioners to care for the Earth, our common home. Loving our planet, the Pope explained, is as essential and as connected to our faith as loving our neighbors.

The Pope’s message inspired people at The Holy Name of Jesus parish in Redlands to start a Creation Care Ministry. Led by the parishioners Marilyn Kott and Marc Candelaria and set up with the help of Father Gino Galley, the ministry took shape in spring 2019.

“We would like to help our parish family become familiar with the Christian need to care for all of God’s creation,” Kott said.

The ministry begins every month with prayer and plans hands-on activities for all parish members, such as clean-up events within the city and the church’s campuses. “We’ve also partnered with a city organization, the Redlands Conservancy, to learn about and help restore native lands in our area,” Kott said.

Co-founder Candelaria added that the ministry is also a way to “appreciate” the sunny SoCal ecosystems, which locals sometimes take for granted.

The founders were influenced by the parish’s Mission Advancement director, Sharon Callon-Schwarz, who shared short writings that described the spirituality of Laudato Si and its directions to care for the planet. The essays were featured in the church bulletin and provided practical eco-tips to parishioners, such as reducing pollution and waste.

At the same time, Kott and Candelaria began working to increase the parish’s awareness on the importance of activities like separating trash, a simple thing that can make a difference. They even took stock of the parish’s infrastructure. “We took a look at the two church buildings from an energy audit perspective,” said Kott regarding the in-depth revisions the ministry plans to do.

The parish’s support was instant. Right now, a core team of five people runs the ministry, and their projects bring in anywhere from 15 to 60 people at a time. They also have an e-newsletter with more than 140 subscribers, where they share reflections about God’s creation.

The ministry has seen support from many parish leaders as well. “We got help from the pastor and his assistant, the deacon, the business manager and the mission advancement director over the past two and a half years,” Kott explained.

Educating on the importance of taking care of the planet has also been a priority at the parish’s school, Sacred Heart Academy. “Sacred Heart Academy has been incorporating creation care into its curriculum for a few years. One of the four school-wide learning expectations is that they become ‘compassionate caretakers of creation who respect and preserve God’s creation,’” said Kott.

The ministry’s resolve is a transparent extension of the encyclical’s key message: protect and take care of the world as the gift from God it is. In Laudato Si, the Pope calls the Earth “poor and abused” and explains that the way we treat the Earth mimics how we treat other humans – with disregard and lack of compassion. He says that the pollution we emit, often without thinking, most harms the poor and asks us to cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation.

“The Creation Care Ministry is one way to bring Christian hope and faith to the environmental movement,” Kott said of their mission.

“God made the world for everyone and every creature. He gave humans a special place in it. He intended for us to cooperate as His instruments for the care of creation, not to rule over it in such a way that tears it down and makes it uninhabitable for other creatures and future generations,” Kott added.

Other members of the ministry also hold these values in high esteem. Member María López called the ministry “a great way of following my faith and doing a small but meaningful part to help restore some of our Earth.”

The ministry calls for all peoples, regardless of faiths or origins, to look at God’s creation with proper admiration and the necessary responsibility. “God created the beautiful and amazing Earth to sustain us, and so we should take what we need with gratitude and joy. But often, we take more than what we need out of convenience or even greed, knowing that we are causing harm,” Kott said.

The Pope’s request to join the seven-year journey to “promote an integral human ecology” begins on Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. When the time comes, all practitioners will try to get into Laudato Si and familiarize themselves with the encyclical or sign the “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” petition, as urged by Pope Francis.

The Creation Care Ministry at The Holy Name of Jesus parish in Redlands will undoubtedly be a helpful resource for parishioners to interpret and take action on the Church’s best advice towards protecting God’s creation.

Luis Minvielle is a Catholic freelance writer from Argentina.