'Laudato Si'' at one year: Catholics inspired to act on climate change

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Peled, EPA

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — Thinking green is not easy. Nor is it always cheap.

for St. Michael Parish in Poway,
California, north of San Diego, parishioners are already seeing the benefits —
spiritual, financial and environmental — of a $1.3 million investment in a
solar panel system.

the year since the panels were installed on several buildings across the
26-acre church property, the parish has seen its electricity costs fall by more
than 75 percent to about $5,000 a month from $20,000 to $22,000 monthly, said Father John Dolan, pastor. At
the current rate, the system will pay for itself within six years, he said.

better, Father Dolan told Catholic News Service, is that parishioners know that
their church is part of a planet-wide movement in response to Pope Francis’
year-old encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” that
calls upon everyone to better care for God’s creation and one another.

are buying into this,” Father Dolan said, explaining how topics on the
environment and sustainability come up in parish conversations, even during
coffee-and-doughnut gatherings after Sunday Mass. “We have to think on a
global level. This is no longer just a regional thing. We have to reach into
this call to stewardship. We have dominion over the world and not domination.”

publication of the encyclical last June 18 helped boost the Diocese of San
Diego’s recommendation that all parishes install solar power systems. With 98
parishes and 89 schools, the effort is more than symbolic. The diocese reported
that more than 50 entities are seeking bids on solar projects or solar power
purchase agreements.

Diego is not alone in embracing the pope’s call to dialogue and action cited in
the encyclical. Catholic organizations around the world have formed study
groups, planted gardens, written broad action plans to reduce energy and water
consumption, developed curricula and produced webinars to bring the principles
Pope Francis expresses in “Laudato Si'” to life.

Archdiocese of Atlanta has adopted a wide-ranging action plan that touches
every aspect of church life. It identifies steps such as ridding the chancery
of plastic foam cups and bowls, teaching catechists about the document, retreats
on sustainability, workshops on developing a parish garden and helping people
that their buying habits matter, said Kat Doyle, archdiocesan director of justice and peace ministries.

reason we came up with an action plan is because nothing is going to change if
we don’t take action,” Doyle explained.

Atlanta plan has caught the eye of Jacqui Remond, national director of Catholic Earthcare Australia.
She has submitted it to the country’s bishops and archbishops, encouraging them
to adopt a similar plan for the country’s 28 dioceses and archdioceses.

a plan can be the basis for formation of people in how they see their role on
the planet, Remond told CNS.

a whole agenda of work that’s been handed to us in ‘Laudato Si’. We have
clarity of purpose, a sense of direction and guiding principles and charisms in
terms to take this forward,” she said.

the last year, Australian parishes and schools have integrated “green”
practices into everyday life to reduce energy consumption and parishioners are
talking with each other about how to respond to the pope’s document.

Ireland, the Catholic aid agency Trocaire has taken the encyclical to parish justice and peace
groups and schools in an attempt to build awareness and action in response to it.
In a commentary on the document available to parishes, Trocaire explains how
people of faith have a responsibility to minimize their contribution to climate
change and understand how the phenomenon affects the world’s poorest people.

seeing, I think, a very positive effort to make sure that ‘Laudato Si” is not
a one-day wonder or even a one-year wonder, but that it is something that is
sustained within the church and promoted as part of the work of the
church,” said Eamonnn
Meehan, executive director.

in the U.S., Catholics are experiencing a growing awareness of climate change.
A Center for Applied Research
in the Apostolate poll conducted in May 16-26 found that Catholic adults
are more likely to be concerned about climate change than other Christians.

poll discovered that 68 percent of Catholics felt they have a moral
responsibility to act to mitigate climate change. In contrast, 65 percent of other
Christians and 59 percent of evangelicals held a similar view. The margin of
error among the 1,010 Catholic respondents is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Dan Misleh, executive director of
the Catholic Climate Covenant, told CNS that people want to act on
climate change and he credits “Laudato Si'” for that willingness to step
up because of their faith.

are wanting to know how they can implement these teachings. How do we lower our
carbon footprint? How do we take better care of creation? How do we ensure that
those who are most impacted by environmental degradation and climate change are
made whole?” Misleh said.

a June 13 teleconference discussing Catholic activities related to the
encyclical over the last year, Bishop
Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee
on International Justice and Peace, said the pope’s message has been
shared with more than 100 members of Congress or congressional staff members.

bishops also have supported the global climate agreement reached in December in
Paris and the Green Climate
Fund to assist poor countries respond to climate change, he said.

are a key audience, Bishop Cantu said, because they can influence the work
being done at parishes on climate change. The USCCB has developed training
modules and is hoping to reach 30 dioceses and 500 priests by 2019.

Hundreds of other efforts underway include:

— Catholic Relief Services launched the “I Am
Climate Change” campaign for students on college campuses and introduced
new ways to confront climate change to subsistence farmers and communities
displaced by drought and environmental degradation.

— The Global Catholic Climate Movement conducted a week of webinars in
mid-June featuring Catholic clergy leaders, academics, and environmental
advocates to mark the encyclical’s anniversary.

— The Virginia Catholic Conference focused on the threat of rising sea
tides in coastal communities and lobbied for passage of a bill that would help
communities affected by flooding.

— The Ignatian Solidarity Network is unrolling the Carbon Challenge program to
schools nationwide. Developed by three Maine high school teachers, the
challenge allows students to engage in the encyclical through eight themes.
Through mid-June, 16 schools involving more than 1,000 individuals had signed to
participate in the challenge for the 2016-2017 school year.

— Religious orders, including missionary orders, are
taking the encyclical into the communities in which they minister, adopting
corporate action plans, developing policies regarding divestment in fossil
fuels and widening education on the encyclical.

— The Archdiocese of Chicago adopted a plan to
assess and reduce energy and water consumption in all 2,700 archdiocesan

— As part of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, SSM
Health in St. Louis has diverted more than 20 percent of its waste to
recycling, reduced overall energy consumption, maintained or decreased air
emissions throughout its system and implemented a more environmentally friendly
equipment sterilization process.

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Contributing to this report in Washington were Colleen
Dulle, Ana Franco-Guzman, Allana Haynes and Nicolette Paglioni.

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