For three days in online spaces and forums, thousands of Catholics looked to prime the U.S. church for a fuller-throated response to climate change and Pope Francis' invitation to become a central component in the global response to the ecological challenges facing the world.
More than 2,600 people registered for the virtual "Laudato Si' and the U.S. Catholic Church" conference, the second of three co-organized by Catholic Climate Covenant and Creighton University to amplify the country's response to Francis' 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." The first gathering took place in 2019 on the Jesuit campus in Omaha, Nebraska, and the final is set for 2023.
Much of this middle conference, held July 13-15, was geared toward updates and preparations for the full release of the Vatican's Laudato Si' Action Platform in the fall. The ambitious project, developed by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, invites church institutions large and small to commit to seven-year plans toward total sustainability, including becoming carbon neutral and expanding ecological education, in the spirit of Laudato Si'.
A bolder embrace of Laudato Si' in the U.S. requires rejecting individualism, indifference and the "false idol of economic growth" that permits reckless exploitation of the environment, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich said at the start of a conference seeking to bolster the response of the nation's Catholics to climate change and the pope's landmark ecological encyclical.
Cupich challenged Catholics to see sacrifice as "essential to saving our planet" and called on young people to meet with their bishops and priests to share their concerns about climate change and urge them to speak out on the environmental challenges facing the world.
"I am convinced that it is useless to talk about advancing a culture of life absent a vigorous commitment — both by individuals and communities — to making the sacrifices required for improving the socioeconomic, ecological and political crises of our time," Cupich said.
Have Catholics in the United States made any progress in responding to environmental challenges? Have new pathways of cooperation opened up between the church and the White House under President Joe Biden? And how much enthusiasm is there across the country to join the Vatican's ambitious push toward total sustainability this decade?
The months leading up to the Vatican's unveiling of its Laudato Si' Action Platform in late May were filled with meetings among many people around the world.
In assembling the ambitious initiative to make the global church a beacon of faith-fueled sustainability, the Vatican consulted far and wide and assembled a web of working groups to offer feedback and fine-tune the massive undertaking.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Faith has taught that water can be powerful, from a baby’s baptism to Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood.
To millions in the West, a flood is the last thing on their minds right now. The region is experiencing its second drought in a decade, and the severity of the current drought’s second year resembles that of the third year of the 2012-16 drought.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, which is updated weekly, puts 84 percent of the West in drought, with 47 percent in the most extreme drought status.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield May 16 to commemorate the feast of the Ascension and the closing of the church’s "Laudato Si: on Care for our Common Home’ " anniversary year. The year marked the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and begins a seven-year period in which he hopes to galvanize the world community to preserve our planet, and with it, human life.
Recalling the message of the Lord’s Ascension, Bishop Burbidge reminded the congregation that Jesus expects us not merely to "stand looking up into heaven," but to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. ..,
Catholic Energies, a service of the Catholic Climate Covenant, helped three parishes through the process by examining several factors, such as a parish’s energy consumption and what the utility company charges them, to see if switching to solar would help their bottom line.
“Doors are open. The administration has its own plans that parallel with what all of our groups are pushing for. It’s a brand new day for those us working for environmental justice,” said Stephen Schneck, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network in Washington.
Catholic support for a price on carbon dioxide emissions was on display during a weekend climate change conference, where two bishops, an environmental leader and former Vatican ambassador touted it as a critical climate solution that is both effective and "eminently doable."
Bishops John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, and Robert McElroy of San Diego both backed the idea of a carbon tax on coal, oil and gas companies, which would be redistributed to Americans in the form of a dividend.
McElroy said it is the responsibility of people of faith to "raise the alarm" about climate change and demand real solutions from public officials.
"The carbon tax is a central element of that, because it's a way of ensuring, in an economically sound manner, that the carbon we put into the atmosphere is reduced in the years to come," he said.
Just as important, he added, "it's eminently doable."
The 51st anniversary of Earth Day is April 22. For many, this Earth Day is significant because it presents an opportunity to properly celebrate both this year’s Earth Day and last year’s golden anniversary, which passed quietly during the early season of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many ways to celebrate Earth Day through faith, including a meditative nature walk, reading a prayer or hymn by Saint Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of animals and ecology) and reading an excerpt from “Laudato Si’.”
The Catholic Church in the U.S. is failing in its capacity to respond to climate change and to live up to its mission to safeguard God's creation, a theologian said this week during a lecture that spawned an act of contrition from the archbishop in attendance.
Daniel DiLeo, an assistant theology professor at Creighton University and director of its justice and peace studies program, made the comments March 22 during the annual Schemmel theology lecture at Clarke University, in Dubuque, Iowa. The online talk provided an overview of Catholic teaching on the environment, climate science and how the two intertwine.
Toward the end of his presentation, DiLeo, who is also a consultant for Catholic Climate Covenant, said the U.S. church is in an "almost ideal" position to respond to climate change. "We've got the mission, we've got the ethics" and the call to evangelization, he said, but moreover, it has the logistics to make a serious difference — in terms of people (about 70 million Catholics in the U.S., or 20% of the population), institutions (176 dioceses, nearly 17,000 parishes and thousands of schools, hospitals and advocacy networks), infrastructure (more than 100,000 buildings and millions of acres of land) and money.
The Catholic Climate Covenant launched a new initiative this week that looks to mobilize young Catholics to spur greater action on climate change in the church and around the country.
More than 70 people, predominantly young adults, joined an online event Feb. 23 to learn more about the youth-oriented program.
Anna Robertson, the group's new director of youth and young adult mobilization, said its goal is "to inspire and empower meaningful action" among young people in the church, within their parishes and dioceses, as well as in the wider national public square.
An Illinois diocesan farm that grows food for the poor and the latest on the Vatican's plans to implement Pope Francis' encyclical were among the environmental updates that participants heard this weekend at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.
The conference, held Feb. 6-9 and organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, is virtual this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The nearly three dozen sessions included two workshops on Feb. 7, along with two prerecorded videos, on ways Catholics and other faith communities are addressing issues related to climate change and environmental justice.
At a panel focusing on efforts across the country to advance the pope's 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," Jose Aguto, associate director of Catholic Climate Covenant, described the Vatican's Laudato Si' Action Platform, which will officially launch in May.
The platform charts a path for seven levels of the church — families, parishes, dioceses, schools, colleges and universities, religious orders, and healthcare institutions — to become fully sustainable in the spirit of the encyclical within seven years. Aguto said it will set goals and metrics in four areas: spirituality, social action, advocacy and sustainability.
"The Vatican is seeking to lift up care for creation across every single Catholic institution," he said.
CLEVELAND (CNS) — With a parcel of unused land, a small-town Illinois parish has started a community garden to feed the hungry and follow the call to care for the earth in response to one of Pope Francis’ encyclicals.
Known as Jordan River Farm, the project at Sacred Heart Mission in rural Kankakee County is part of the Diocese of Joliet’s Laudato Si’ Ministries program, Kayla Jacobs, ministry director, explained during a prerecorded Catholic Social Ministries Gathering workshop.
The small farm, run by volunteers is helping feed residents of nearby Hopkins Park, population 600, about 75 miles south of Chicago. Jacobs said the project is an example of how local parishes can help implement the pope’s ideas found in “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders and proclamations aimed at undoing policies set in place by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Some of Trump's executive orders undone by Biden's actions Jan. 20 were themselves reversals of policies by other past presidents.
Biden boosted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program put in place by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, and which Trump sought unsuccessfully to end. Also, the 46th president revoked the Trump administration's bid to exclude noncitizens from the decennial U.S. census count.
In one of his first acts in office, President Joe Biden began the process for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and to reestablish the scores of environmental regulations undone by his predecessor in the Oval Office.
Biden, seated at the Resolute Desk in the West Wing of the White House, signed the notice to re-enter the Paris accord Jan. 20 just hours after taking the oath of office. It was later deposited with the United Nations, and under the agreement, will take effect in 30 days, or Feb. 19. The U.S. will also have to submit a new greenhouse gas emissions-reduction plan.
"We're going to combat climate change in a way that we haven't done so far," Biden said.
The U.S. return to the Paris Agreement "recasts our global solidarity to act with all other nations to address the human-made climate emergency," Mercy Sr. Áine O'Connor, a member of the Mercy Sisters' leadership team, told EarthBeat in an email.
In a major effort, the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, introduced a solar power program in collaboration with Catholic Energies, a program of the Catholic Climate Covenant.
The covenant also introduced the Catholic Climate Project, an intergenerational movement to respond through action and prayer to the challenges posed by climate change. The effort is set to build on what parishioners and organizations already are doing while inviting more people to deepen the Catholic commitment to protect creation.
2020 also marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day April 22. In a statement on its website about the day, the California Catholic Conference noted that Earth Day awareness and activism have led to the Clean Air, Clear Water and Endangered Species acts.
Commitments made by countries at a virtual climate summit on Dec. 12 are a step forward, but still not enough to slow global warming sufficiently, leaders of Catholic and other faith-based climate groups say.
"It's important to keep some momentum going, " said Daniel Misleh, founding executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant. "But clearly there need to be many more robust commitments to keep us to a 1.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature."
And while countries announced targets, the means of achieving them aren't clear, said Chiara Martinelli, senior adviser at CIDSE, an international coalition of Catholic social justice organizations.
This Advent, the waiting is all-consuming. We are waiting to see how our makeshift Christmas plans will turn out. We are waiting for the end of the pandemic. We await a government transition. Now seems like a great time for Christ to renew the face of the Earth.
For those of us who have watched closely as wildfires and hurricanes devastated our country in 2020, we are also waiting for the world to get serious about action on climate change.
Five years ago, on Dec. 12, the nations of the world finally decided together to stave off the worst of the climate disruption that has threatened lives and livelihoods around the world. Earlier in that year of 2015, Pope Francis created a media storm with his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," followed by his visit to the United States.
When Father John Grace, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hampton, talks about the hundreds of solar panels that now cover the roof of the church sanctuary, he talks not just about saving money on electricity, but protecting God’s creation.
“That is adding something to the quality of life for the future,” Grace said of the solar panel array that was installed in July 2019.
Grace said it was a project his parishioners embraced and now look at with pride.
“I have got a lot of retirees,” in the parish, he said. When the idea of installing solar panels was first proposed, “they said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ which you might not expect from an older parish, but they did.”
“We are saving about 10% or 11%” on energy costs, Grace said. “We have also avoided [producing] about 175 tons of greenhouse gases.”
Wilton Gregory, soon to be the first African American Catholic cardinal, has distinguished himself among archbishops with his embrace of Pope Francis's landmark encyclical on the environment and climate change.
Gregory, 72, the archbishop of Washington, has, during his long career in the church, spoken out for racial justice, welcomed LGBTQ Catholics and led the church's "zero-tolerance" response to sex abuse in the United States after the crisis with priests that emerged in the 1990s.
But it was in 2015, with the issuance of the Pope's "Laudato Si': On Care for our Common Home," that Gregory, at the time the Archbishop of Atlanta, asked for an action plan to implement Francis's seminal embrace of climate science. That action plan has been used as inspiration for other faith guides in Boston, Columbus, Minneapolis, San Diego and beyond.
When President Donald Trump announced in 2017 his intention to make the United States the first and lone nation in the world to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, he justified the move by saying he was "elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."
But three years later, it was voters in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and across Pennsylvania that delivered the presidency to his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, who has vowed to immediately re-enter the global climate accord as the first step in enacting his ambitious environmental platform built on the prospect of jobs and justice.
Early reaction from Catholic and environmental activists expressed a guarded optimism that a Biden administration will reorient the country on climate after four years of inaction, but they were well aware of the hurdles he faces — none larger than the potential legislative impasse should Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate.
"As people of faith, we are grateful that President-elect Biden has a plan to address the climate crisis," said Chloe Noel, project coordinator on faith, economy and ecology for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
CLEVELAND — A large majority of Catholic voters believe climate change is a serious or somewhat serious concern and that governments at all levels as well as corporations and individuals must take stronger action to address it, according to results of a new poll released Oct. 22.
Conducted Oct. 13 by Climate Nexus, Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, the online poll showed that 78 percent of nonwhite Catholics and 74 percent of white Catholics who participated consider climate change a serious or somewhat serious problem.
At the same time, 82 percent of nonwhite Catholics and 77 percent of white Catholics said they are very worried or somewhat worried about climate change.
For months now, Neddy Astudillo, a Presbyterian pastor, has doggedly worked the phones and webinars from her Tampa home, reaching out to religious congregations across Florida in an effort to get out the vote — particularly a vote that considers climate change.
"We've come to a point in our human history that our vote and our say and our policies [in the United States] have an impact, and will have an impact, on millions of people around the world, and have and will have on future generations," especially related to climate change, she said.
It's a message Astudillo has repeated in conversations about the importance of the presidential election as part of the Compassionate Voter Campaign, an election season undertaking by the interreligious group GreenFaith — one of numerous efforts by climate-focused faith groups to mobilize religious voters to take environmental concerns with them to the ballot box.
Addressing climate change is a faith-based obligation to “protect God’s creation,” say 81 percent of American religious voters surveyed in a poll released this morning from Climate Nexus and Yale and George Mason’s respective programs on climate change communications.
According to the poll, which surveyed voters who identified as evangelical and mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and religiously unaffiliated, voters of faith largely believe in climate change, are worried about it, and support providing federal funding to communities vulnerable to extreme weather in potential COVID-19 recovery funding.
“People are dying today from the impact of our neglect of God's creation,” said Dan Misleh, founding executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant.
While many Catholics in the United States today are debating Pope Francis’ reported nod to homosexual civil unions, there appears to be growing agreement within the US church both in the reality of climate change and that the issue must be addressed.
A majority of US Catholic voters would also support policies that address climate change, such as clean energy infrastructure. 76% of nonwhite Catholic voters expressed such support as did 68% of white Catholic voters.