22 May 2020, The Tablet

Focus on Creation in Laudato Si’ Week

Focus on Creation in Laudato Si’ Week

Columban Fr Liam O'Callaghan and a local community plant a tree in Pakistan.

Week-long global events to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' landmark encyclical on the environment have gone ahead, although more digitally than originally planned.

An on-line global retreat was held last weekend, organised by the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM). Pope Francis’ video for the week was played, where he said: “I renew my urgent call to respond to the ecological crisis” and “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor cannot continue”. A Vatican reflection guide outlined similarities between the pandemic and the ecological crisis, for instance its global reach, the exposure of underlying social injustices and the need for a united effort to find solutions.

The week ends on 24 May with a worldwide day of prayer at noon, using a text provided on the Laudato Si’ Week website. However, Catholic communities across the world are invited to continue the grassroots movement to work toward “total sustainability” over the coming decade. This path would include carbon neutrality, simpler lifestyles and divestment from fossil fuels.

Laudato Si’ Week is sponsored by the Vatican's Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development and more than 100 Catholic organisations worldwide have signed on as partners.

The Columban Missionary Society, for example, issued a statement last weekend highlighting the fragile state of biodiversity as an essential theme to living Laudato Si’. It highlighted Columban work in Myanmar and Pakistan, collaborating with dioceses in education and experiential learning about the themes and spirituality of Laudato Si’. “Our work also involves training environmental activists in community groups and schools and practical activities such as tree plantation and environmental campaigns” says Fr Liam O’Callaghan in Pakistan.

Last Sunday, the Diocese of Faisalabad celebrated the fifth anniversary of the encyclical with prayers for the care of creation, a seminar and the planting of trees. The Catholic Climate Movement in Argentina held a seminar, “All things are connected”, which included a focus on creation-centred theology.

Last Monday, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres joined Fr Augusto Zampini, adjunct secretary with the dicastery, to examine the impact of Laudato Si’ over five years and its continuing relevance to today's ecological and health crises.

The same day, 42 faith institutions announced they were divesting from fossil fuels. They came from Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Myanmar, Spain, the U.S. and the UK. On Thursday, the International Union of Superiors General, representing 450,000 Catholic sisters around the world, led an online prayer service on the theme of “Everything is connected in the web of life”. Laudato Si’ Generation, the youth branch of GCCM, held an online workshop that day on how to compost at home.

Many Bishops’ conferences, dioceses, parishes, and religious congregations have organised their own online activities. Webinars and workshops throughout the week have focused on eco-spirituality, sustainability, advocacy and social action. The Archdiocese of Madrid, for example, held online events on Climate Change and Integral Ecology.

In the Philippines, seminarians spoke online about the importance of Laudato Si’. The social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines launched a program on 17 May aiming to ensure food security in communities after the coronavirus pandemic. Green Initiatives of Caritas Philippines encourages dioceses and parishes to promote community farming and intensify ecological campaigns. Fr Edwin Gariguez, the executive secretary, said the year-long program focuses on three major campaigns that the Catholic Church has been advocating: fostering organic farming, the promotion of the Rights of Nature, and divestment from dirty energy projects. In Malaysia, the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur aired a throwback reflection by Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle on Laudato Si’ that he gave in 2015.

Caritas Togo was amongst Caritas groups in Africa looking to the prayer time on 24 May.  It tweeted: “Bring solidarity to our world in a shared moment of prayer at noon local time on 24 May - Catholics from all across the globe will be united in spirit because ‘everything is connected’.” Caritas initiatives across Africa include nurturing climate change champions in Kenya who contribute towards ensuring sustainability in environmentally sensitive work and, in Sierra Leone, highlighting the link between social inequality and environmental damage.

Caritas New Zealand shared a series of blog posts on its website on “what we've been up to” over the five years. In Canada, the Archdiocese of Toronto produced study notes picking up on key themes in the encyclical such as reviewing “throwaway culture”. The Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice in Canada prepared resources to help Catholics study Laudato Si’. Victoria Blanco, the forum’s program manager, said: “This is the right time to look back at this document and look back at our faith and what it means to care for our common home and move toward a just recovery.” One forum resource explores new ways to think about growth and the economy, as well as for individuals to live within the limits of the natural world.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops produced a series of study guides, liturgical resources and homily notes to assist reflection on the encyclical as well as Querida Amazonia, Francis' apostolic exhortation on the Amazon synod. Daily email reflections offered ways to pray, learn and act on caring for creation. The conference held two virtual roundtables of bishops – including San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy and Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron – discussing how the encyclical has been received and implemented in the US church. San Diego Diocese has planned four online training sessions to assist parishes in forming creation care teams. The Sisters of Mercy in the US launched the Mercy Earth Challenge, a “year-long marathon of change” in lifestyle habits, like reducing waste and living more simply as a way to celebrate the Laudato Si’ anniversary. Each week of the challenge, the sisters highlight a passage from the encyclical and provide an action step that people can take.



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