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Meeting God in nature

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The Diocese holds its first ever Care for Creation Day to highlight Pope Francis’ call to environmental stewardship

By John Andrews

BIG BEAR—Under clear blue skies, majestic evergreens and with periodic appearances of various winged and four-legged creatures, it wasn’t hard for this group of church ministers and Catholic school students to stop and consider the beauty and importance of God’s creation.

 They were gathered at St. Joseph Parish in Big Bear for the inaugural Diocesan Care for Creation Day on Oct. 6, just two days past the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment.

 “Where else could we have it? We’re 7,000 feet closer to God,” quipped Father Paul Smith, CR, Pastor of St. Joseph, as he welcomed the group of nearly 100 people to the event.

 Care for Creation Day was proposed and coordinated by a committee formed two years ago to promote Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, which sounds a call to the Catholic faithful and all people of goodwill to be better stewards of the planet.

 The day began with a prayer that incorporated Native American smudging and the prayer of the four directions. Led by Deacon Andy Orozco and Soboba Tribal member Michael Madrigal, the prayer captivated many of the Catholic school students who had limited understanding of how Native Americans express their Catholic spirituality.

 “I thought it was super cool to see a different culture,” said Aquinas High School student Victoria Gonzalez.

 St. Margaret Mary School Principal Waylynn Senn, who brought his student council to Big Bear, agreed. “The whole experience of the Indian prayer, the meshing of the two cultures, was very important for the students to see.”

 St. Margaret Mary School, located in Chino, was one of three schools from the West End of the Diocese that made the trip up the mountain. Our Lady of Lourdes, Montclair and Resurrection Academy, Fontana were the other two.

 Following the opening prayer, David Johnston, a local naturalist with the U.S. Forest Service, gave a brief talk on the ecology and the role of human beings in it. “God has created what is like a glass dome around our mother earth,” Johnston said, describing the atmosphere. “It’s like our greenhouse.”

 Johnston then led the group on an hour-long hike on a trail in the hills behind St. Joseph, calling attention to hawks flying overhead, the insistent knocking sound of the acorn woodpecker and noting that the towering Western Juniper tree where the group stopped to rest was over 1,700 years old. For many of the students who made the trip, the mountain environment was a refreshing change.

 “I liked seeing the different kinds of trees,” said Alessandra Delgadillo, an eighth grader at Resurrection Academy. “They look well taken care of, they look too good to be true.”

 Following a break for lunch, the group enjoyed a presentation from Catholic Relief Services’ representative Maria Arroyo on the significance of Laudato Si and how it can be lived in our daily lives. Arroyo touted the “three R’s” (Reduce-Reuse-Recycle), noting that “we’ve adopted a culture of making things disposable. We throw away a lot of things that we could use.” She also invited the group to reflect on humankind’s relationship with the earth.

 “It’s in our best interest to take care of mother earth,” Arroyo said, “because we come from her. She sustains us.”

 The day ended with an activity, as attendees gathered at long tables and made birdfeeders out of pinecones, peanut butter, seeds and other natural elements.

 Sister Hortensia Del Villar, S.A.C., who chairs the event planning committee, said the Diocese would like to continue holding Care for Creation Day, perhaps rotating the location to highlight the diverse natural environments contained within San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

 “Having a profound experience of nature like this is an important first step in raising our consciousness about the great need for us to take care of the planet,” Sr. Hortensia said. “So let us hope that this was a wonderful beginning.”