WINDSOR TERRACE — In 2015, Pope Francis, two years into his papacy, penned his second encyclical letter titled, “Laudato Si’, On Care of Our Common Home.”
In it, the pontiff declares the Catholic cause for protecting the planet, based on Scripture. He also asserted that citizens of impoverished countries suffer pollution caused by the production of goods and services consumed in more prosperous nations.
Therefore, he wrote, protecting the planet and the poor are linked.
The letter’s sixth anniversary is May 24, which wraps a year-long celebration of its teachings.
“We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach,” Pope Francis wrote. “It must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
Those cries are heard by members of the Care for Creation Ministry of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Bay Ridge.
The ministry is among 737 others throughout the world formed by Catholics and people of other faiths. Together, they heed the calls for action set out by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’.
To that end, members of the ministry at St. Andrew the Apostle explore the many facets of the encyclical. They also perform projects that promote the conservation of resources.
For example, adult members guided youth in Earth Day events, like poster-making projects or working in the garden at St. Andrews. In addition, they made suggestions on how to install proper recycling features during the renovation of the parish kitchen.
But Tom Hinchen, a ministry leader, described other activities that involve deep studies and discussions of Laudato Si’ — via Zoom because of the pandemic — so that participants can embrace them. In so doing, they pursue what Pope Francis called an “ecological conversion.”
“Pope Francis is asking us to simplify our lifestyles,” Hinchen said. “He speaks often about overconsumption. And I think we Americans, and probably people all over, are becoming less tuned in to Creation — the environment around us. We’re less aware of how our lifestyle impacts others and impacts the planet.
“He used the phrase, ‘ecological conversion,’ which is a turning towards something. So I think what Pope Francis is asking us to do is tune in, more than anything else.”
Hinchen said that could mean conserving water. But it also could involve eating only what one needs to stay healthy. To do otherwise churns more agricultural production, which demands more water.
Likewise, manufacturing excessive goods adds air pollution, a target of those concerned about climate change. Included is the Church, which has sanctioned the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
Part of the movement’s mission is to urge Catholics to form groups like the Care for Creation Ministry at St. Andrew the Apostle.
Hinchen, a founding member of the ministry, is a retired teacher who taught social studies, English, and religion at Catholic schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn, including St. Catherine of Genoa School and St. Therese of Lisieux Academy.
Earlier, he was a Maryknoll lay missionary in Peru.
“When I heard about Laudato Si’ back in 2015, I wanted to get it, and I wanted to read it as soon as possible,” Hinchen said. “I happened to be with my wife on vacation in Nova Scotia, and we passed by a Catholic bookstore. They had it, so I bought it. And then I read it.”
Hinchen said Pope Francis effectively described the planet’s fragility, something the retired teacher hadn’t fully fathomed, even though he had a lifelong concern for the environment.
“What I learned about myself was how little I knew,” Hinchen said. “I regularly read about environmental issues, but there was so much that I didn’t know. I’m still reading and learning.”
Hinchen retired from teaching. Next came the pandemic. Suddenly he had plenty of time for a deep dive into Catholic teachings on the environment. Laudato Si’ became his textbook.
A short time later, he read a Maryknoll newsletter with a notice about becoming a facilitator to lead groups on creating Care for Creation ministries. The Global Catholic Climate Movement offered the training and described the leadership position as an “animator.”
Hinchen signed up, his knowledge deepened, and his parish’s Care for Creation ministry came to life. It accomplished much in its first year, including:
- Integration of Care for Creation themes in the parish’s religious education program
- Celebration of Season of Creation, Sept. 1-Oct. 4 with pulpit messages and a Season of Creation Mass
- Advent and Lenten themes shared with the parishioners
- Notification of events such as recycling of electronics and Christmas tree mulching
- Outreach to neighboring parishes as well as non-Catholic congregations. (Four other parishes have included messages in their bulletins)
- Coordination with the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement
All these activities were linked to the tenets of Laudato Si’.
In the letter, Pope Francis reminds readers that God owns all Creation, which He provides for humanity to sustain itself.
“‘The earth is the Lord’s,’” he wrote, quoting Psalm 24:1. “To him belongs ‘the earth with all that is within it (Dt. 10:14).’ Thus, God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me (Lev. 25:23).’”
Whatever surplus one nation has can be shared, the pontiff said.
According to Laudato Si’, “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”
For example, Pope Francis praised the forming of “cooperatives” that make renewable sources of energy which “ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy.”
“This simple example shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference,” he wrote. “They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity, and a deep love for the land.”
They are also concerned about what they will leave to their children and grandchildren, Pope Francis said.
But achieving the “ecological conversion” need not be burdensome, Hinchen said. For example, he noted, there is no mandate to abandon holiday feasting.
“Nobody’s asking people to do away with the wonderful family celebrations that they’re accustomed to,” Hinchen said. “It’s more of an everyday thing — not being wasteful. It means I’m mindful of how people across the world are affected by our lifestyle and our overconsumption.”
The Care for Creation Ministry at St. Andrew has five members. Still, Hinchen hopes to recruit more as the pandemic dissolves.
“We would love to have every parish to have one,” Hinchen said. “And I would like everyone to pick up Laudato Si’ and read it. It’s really a remarkable document about what’s happening, how that relates to our faith, and what we can and should do.”
Editor’s Note: Anyone interested in joining, or starting similar ministries at other parishes, can email Tom Hinchen at email@example.com. More information is available at catholicclimatemovement.global.