YUCAIPA—Just miles from where the flames of the El Dorado Fire forced thousands to evacuate their homes, Bishop Gerald Barnes sounded an alarming note about the state of the environment.
“Our earth is in trouble,” he said on Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, who is a focal point of Catholic teaching on the ecology. “We have seen the signs of the times with the fires, so much more frequent, so much more intense.”
The occasion was the Care for Creation Mass, held at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parish in Yucaipa. The Diocesan Care for Creation Committee coordinated the liturgy in lieu of the annual Care for Creation Day that had been held the previous three years in the Diocese. Social gathering restrictions related to COVID-19 had forced the cancellation of the 2020 Care for Creation Day.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for people to pray and reflect, either in person or through livestream, on the urgent need for us as people of faith to accept our responsibility to take better care of our planet,” said Sister Hortensia del Villar, S.A.C., chair of the Care for Creation Committee. “The fires, floods and hurricanes we are seeing in these recent months are so severe and so threatening. It’s a clear message to us that action and new behaviors are needed on our part.”
Attendance reached the 100-person maximum allowed for outdoor church services in San Bernardino County and the Mass was also livestreamed on the parish YouTube channel. The Yucaipa parish was selected as the location for the Mass to highlight the recent impact of the wildfires in the Diocese and the larger environmental challenges that they represent.
To draw further connection to the El Dorado Fire, youth and staff from Trinity Youth Services were invited to attend and were acknowledged at the close of the Mass by Deacon Dan Hudec. About 43 youth and staff members from Trinity Youth Service were housed in the parish center for five days in early September, after they were forced to evacuate their nearby facility.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ Papal Encyclical Laudato Si, which calls people of faith to greater environmental stewardship and, in that, care for the poor. The Holy Father has declared this anniversary year a “Jubilee of the Earth.”
As part of this year’s anniversary activities, a “Laudato Si’ Action Platform” will be launched, with various institutions committing to a 7-year project aimed at reaching total sustainability in the spirit of Laudato Si.
The initiative is designed to involve families, dioceses and local parishes, schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and other healthcare centers, businesses, farms, and religious orders and provinces in drafting plans for sustainable living going forward.
Among the goals of the platform, according to the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development, are adopting simpler lifestyles and developing “ecological economics” based on sustainable production, fair trade, using less plastic and adopting a more plant-based diet to reduce meat consumption, as well as a broader use of public transport in order to reduce pollution.