Imagine that every time you decided NOT to buy something, an equivalent amount of money was added to your bank account. Would it change your purchasing habits? What if a decision to buy an ethically produced product resulted in a personal thank-you note explaining how your decision meant the producer’s family could afford to meet basic expenses, like food, for the month? Would it be enough to convince you to purchase ethically more often? Or if every sip from a reusable water bottle was penance for a sin committed that same week – would it be enough to end your addiction to plastic water bottles?
Three years ago, Pope Francis challenged the world to renew its commitment to human life, recognize that all of creation is impacted by individual consumer decisions, and make significant changes in our lifestyles to reflect the reality of our interconnectedness. The papal encyclical Laudato Si’, issued June 18, 2015, encourages Catholics and all people to “See nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. …. The world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” It also exhorts us to do more than just see nature, challenging us to “regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” even if it means foregoing that cheap new sweater or gas-guzzling vehicle.
Laudato Si’ inspired Catholics around the globe to protect and preserve God’s gift of creation, not only for our individual sake, but for the betterment of conditions for the most vulnerable who are usually the most impacted by the effects of climate change. Three years later, there are small changes in our local Church practices – more recycling, less Styrofoam, a few solar projects – but much more still needs to be done.
Bishop Oscar A. Solis is leading the way for our local Church, signing on to the U.S. Catholic Climate Declaration in support of the Paris Climate Agreement protocols. The Declaration reiterates the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ stance that “at its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both ‘the human environment’ and the natural environment. It is about our human stewardship of God’s creation and our responsibility to those who come after us.”
To fulfill our Catholic responsibilities to protect the human and natural environment, our local Church, diocesan offices, parishes and individuals need to step up our game. Excellent resources for doing so abound, but programs, plans, tips, etc. are useless without committed individuals willing to parse through the materials and implement long-term strategies. At the Diocese of Salt Lake City, we are just beginning to form a team to focus on sustainability. Parishes can do the same, using the Creation Care Team materials provided by Catholic Climate Covenant (www.catholicclimatecovenant.org/cct).
Creation Care Teams help move parish communities past politics and economic theory and into deeper engagement with our Catholic faith. Teams meet monthly in a prayerful, faith-based way to discuss Catholic teaching, implement parish-wide changes, and advocate for faith-informed climate policies. Teams across the nation have offered parish community events, such as encouraging the entire parish to give up plastic bottles and bags for Lent, offering home energy fairs, providing weekly green tips in parish bulletins, hosting battery, electronics and other recycling events, and changing practices at parish coffees and socials to better care for our common home. They do so from a faith perspective, enlivening the parish to act through faith, rather than dividing the parish along political lines.
Parish Creation Care Teams help all of us achieve the “ecological conversion” envisioned by Pope Francis “whereby the effects of [our] encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in [our] relationship with the world around [us].”
Pope Francis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Solis and our faith challenge us to care for the gifts God has granted us. Are you willing to form a Creation Care Team? If so, visit www.catholicclimatecovenant.org/cct to learn more.
Jean Hill is director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Peace & Justice Commission.