John Mundell’s company is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, but his workplace is essentially worldwide. Since beginning his career as an environmental engineer in the 1980s, Mundell has been part of teams that have cleaned up thousands of sites, including some of the most hazardous in the world. Restoring contaminated land and returning it to local communities is deeply satisfying work, Mundell says, and dovetails nicely with his Catholic faith.
Mundell now has an opportunity to deepen that connection. In July, the Vatican announced that the Indiana native had been appointed Director of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a Rome-led campaign to inspire and equip Catholics to live out the mission laid out by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si': “to dare to turn to what is happening around the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
According to National Catholic Reporter, as of April 4,500 Catholic institutions and families had registered to take part in the seven-year initiative, which organized around seven goals, from the adoption of sustainable lifestyles to working for ecological justice. Given that the church has 1.5 billion members worldwide, there is plenty of room to grow. More can be done to enlist parishes, colleges, dioceses, communities and families in this urgent work.
In an interview with Catholic Climate Covenant, Mundell spoke to that aim, saying he wants to make enrolling in the platform as easy as possible for as many people as possible. He also spoke about his Catholic faith, how he got into environmental work, what he would say to bishops reluctant to commit to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform and where he finds hope on our rapidly degrading planet. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, John. Can you tell us how you got started in environmental work?
I loved exploring the outdoors with my childhood friends. Being from Indiana, I grew up with a certain passion and respect for the land. I was strongly influenced by my participation in the first Earth Day in 1970, cleaning up trash along the roadways on the way to school.
The environmental seed that was planted would grow after I graduated from Purdue University and began working on projects that needed technical expertise and ability to find solutions to some of the most pressing environmental situations we faced.
You’re a Catholic and an environmental engineer. What connections do you see between your faith and your ecological work?
The connection between my faith and my work grew over time, along with my understanding of the value of work in building the kind of world we are called to participate in as Christians. I started my own firm 27 years ago to become part of the Focolare Movement’s Economy of Communion, a business network that focuses on addressing economic inequality -- with the vision of “no one in need,” as described in the Acts of the Apostles when the first Christians practiced the communion of goods.
I wanted to be able to practice my values and faith as a Catholic in my everyday work life. This meant making decisions that followed gospel principles rather than just maximizing the return on investment for shareholders.
To have ecology and the environment highlighted by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ provided added meaning to the work – to see the connections between what we do and the protection of the planet feels immensely satisfying.
Can you share a bit about how you were selected for this role?
I was part of the Creation Care Commission in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where we have worked on moving the Archdiocese ahead in its commitment to creation care by, among other things, piloting a sustainability program with parishes and a high school; developing a website to provide resources for parishes and others; and lobbying the state legislature for sustainable energy and other environmental programs.
After the publication of Laudato Si’, I attended a Vatican event to launch efforts to put the encyclical into practice and became involved in the Global Catholic Climate Movement (now Laudato Si Movement). I continued to provide consulting to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and participated in groups that helped develop the Laudato Si Action Platform. Recently, I was asked to be part of a smaller group to evaluate the LSAP and suggest ideas for its future direction.
What is your vision for the LSAP and what do you see as its primary goal?
My vision, hopefully, is consistent with Pope Francis’ vision, and that is to support and encourage concrete actions that put Laudato Si’ into practice in very real ways -- not only by Catholics, but also by people of other religions or no formal association with a religion. The problem we face is clear: our climate is changing and causing significant negative impacts, especially on the most vulnerable. Our planet is suffering. We’ve spent the past seven years doing a lot of talking, thinking, praying and discussing, but the real work lies ahead of us. We must now begin to turn our reflections into direct actions and change our lives and lifestyles. The Catholic community, with our social teaching, is uniquely positioned to play a major role in moving the needle in a direction that protects the planet.
How do you see the LSAP evolving in the near future?
We want to make enrollment in the LSAP as easy as possible so that we can engage as many people as possible in the development of specific action plans. We want the LSAP to focus on the achievement of the seven Laudato Si’ Goals. And we want the LSAP to encourage and support local efforts and to create a community that works together to bring about these positive outcomes.
How can US Catholics best live out the message of Laudato Si’?
It starts with ourselves and the individual “ecological conversions” Pope Francis calls us to make. It’s hard to tell others what to do if we do not provide an example. I think American Catholics are especially called to an examination of conscience regarding our lifestyles. Are we living out our Catholic faith in all of its beauty and fullness? Moving toward a lifestyle focused less on having than being is perhaps the first step toward tackling our unsustainable desires for more stuff.
By my count, only seven dioceses have signed up for the LSAP. How would you encourage bishops and dioceses to get more engaged with the platform?
Their signing up officially is so important. It’s a visible sign that says “This is important to us, and we are committed to becoming more authentic stewards of our planet.” The faithful need this kind of moral leadership to help them take the same step.
But let’s face it, the bishops are faced with many pressing concerns in their day-to-day management of dioceses. What I would say to them is this: the need for action can be incorporated into everything they are already dealing with at the diocesan level.
Also, do not underestimate the importance of creation care to the Catholic faithful, who see it as a core moral imperative. The LSAP offers them a unique way to engage the next generation of Catholics by addressing one of their biggest concerns. The LSAP offers many Catholics who are inactive or have left the Church a way to be involved in activities that can make a big difference in the world.
Things look pretty bleak, climate-wise, these days. Where do you find hope?
I find hope in Catholic schoolchildren who replace their throw-away lunch plates with reusable ones. I find hope in a priest whose parish plants two hundred trees to fight climate change. I find hope in a parish that installs a solar array so that they can invest their monthly savings in supporting outreach programs for the homeless. I find hope in seeing Catholics, Christians, Muslims and Jews working together on climate action and creation care, when they have never worked on any project together before. I find hope in religious sisters who commit a part of their retirement funds and savings to providing grants to people who start creation care projects in their neighborhoods. I find hope in a Pope who dares to call us to change the world, to become protagonists in the fight for survival of thousands of species. I have hope in a human being who looked out on a pretty bleak outcome and yet believed in a God who loves us immensely and never abandons us. As Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement once said: “It is only at night that we can see the stars.”
As we continue to get stories from the Victory Noll Sisters Small Grant program winners this year, and how they are using their awards, we share with you a recent update from a winner today!
The Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pennsylvania, welcomed neighbors to their grounds along the Ohio River on Earth Day this Spring for a sunny day of celebration, education and appreciation of nature’s bounty.
While musicians strummed tunes and food trucks fed the crowd, the Sisters distributed information about Laudato Si’, gave tours of their gardens, offered an introduction to beekeeping and acquainted the community with their chickens.
In keeping with the Earth Day theme, the Sisters of St. Joseph also invited local environmental activists to set up booths where they explained their efforts to protect Beaver County’s water, air and land from fracking, pollution and other forms of degradation. A geologist taught about the Earth’s inner crust, a nonprofit that works to address food insecurity sold seedlings and a community swap enabled neighbors to reduce waste by exchanging gently used clothing and household items.
For the kids, a Girl Scouts troop offered lessons in crafting binoculars from recycled toilet paper rolls, name tags from tree bark and bird feeders from pine cones, while a local storyteller encouraged her young audience to help spin tales about nature and the Bible.
“As Sisters of St. Joseph, we believe in a ‘sacramental universe’ of wondrous diversity, a gift of God that requires our care and respect,” the community said in a recap of the day. “On Earth Day, we celebrate this gift and recommit to caring for our common home, together.”
The delightful day was made possible by 30 committed volunteers and a grant from the Victory Noll Sisters Small Grant through a program run by Catholic Climate Covenant.
“Because of (the program) more than 300 children and adults from our neighboring communities visited our Motherhouse grounds to deepen their understanding of and respect for the environment,” the Sisters of St. Joseph said, “to learn how to live more sustainably; and to become attuned to how all of creation lives and has its being in God.”
Among the other Victory Noll Sisters grant awardees are college campus ministries, parishes, elementary and high school creation care programs, charities agencies and state Catholic conferences. To view a full list of winners, click here.
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last week to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants was met with disbelief and disappointment by Catholic and other faith groups, calling it "a moral travesty" with serious repercussions for both people and the climate.
The consequential ruling, issued June 30 in one of the final cases of a monumental term for the court, dealt a major blow to one of the federal government's tools to reduce the heat-trapping gases, which are driving climate change, from one of the nation's largest emitting sources: coal- and gas-fired power plants. It also raised questions about what leeway other federal agencies will have to interpret laws and directives they've been tasked to enforce.
In a statement, the Catholic Climate Covenant said it was "deeply disappointed" by the Supreme Court's decision.
Advocates expressed disappointment that the U.S. Supreme Court has limited Environmental Protection Agency action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but said they will continue to push Congress to enact much-needed climate change legislation.
“We want to focus on getting ambitious and urgent climate solutions implemented now, recognizing that the window is closing on this opportunity based on the scientific evidence,” said Jose Aguto, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.
The covenant will mobilize its “Encounter for Our Common Home” initiative that finds people working in parishes and through national and local organizations to contact members of Congress about vital environmental protection issues.
Finding healing and exploring ways to work more effectively with diverse communities was the focus of the general session on the second day of the “Alive in Christ: Young, Diverse, Prophetic Voices Journeying Together,” a multicultural national gathering of Catholic ministry leaders in Chicago June 23-26.
Over 300 Catholic ministry leaders, young adults and bishops from dioceses and parishes around the country listened to the panelists who spoke about the importance of embracing historical memories in their cultures and faith.
Anna Robertson recalled learning about historical memory in a rural town in El Salvador, where young people were committed to preserving the memory of the civil war in that country and the suffering of their communities so that history would not repeat itself.
With prospects for substantial climate change legislation fading as midterm elections draw closer, a major Catholic campaign is bringing constituents straight to their senators, writes reporter Brian Roewe in National Catholic Reporter.
Amadou Diallo, a program manager for Catholic Relief Services in his native Senegal, knows from talking with the farmers and cattle herders that the cyclical droughts the country experienced occurred about once every 10 years for generations.
More recently, he has learned from conversations with them that the droughts occur more often, perhaps every three or four years, and are unpredictable in duration.
The more frequent droughts cause the herders to take their cattle elsewhere, possibly opening the way to conflict. For people who grow crops to sell, their yields are smaller, limiting their ability to provide enough food for their families. At times, parents pull their children from school and send them to work to help support their families.
Grim but not hopeless. A foreboding future but the potential for a better one, if immediate, systemic and sustainable action is taken. An urgent need to adapt to increasingly extreme weather. And a key role for faith communities in all of it.
Those were among the responses of religious groups and their allies to Monday's major report on climate science from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
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.