WINDSOR TERRACE — When the annual Season of Creation traditionally ends on Oct. 4, Catholics worldwide will start planning long-term strategies to reverse the consequences of climate change and other forms of environmental damage.
Season of Creation begins Sept. 1, the date in 1989 that Demetrios I of Constantinople proclaimed a day of prayer for creation for Eastern Orthodox Christians. Since then, the World Conference of Churches expanded the observance, asking that it continue through Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology.
Pope Francis described the environmental emergency in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Sí: On Care for Our Common Home” — a plea for change in how humans tend God’s creation. Last year, he encouraged Catholics to achieve total ecological sustainability this decade.
Subsequently, the Vatican urged Catholic institutions worldwide — from families to large organizations — to develop a seven-year “Laudato Sí Action Platform.”
“It can involve people taking on personal lifestyles that are more sustainable and healing of the earth,” said Nancy Lorence of Brooklyn, a leader for the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement.
Such changes could include avoiding the use of plastics or other non-biodegradable materials, Lorence said, or having an energy audit done in your residence to see where heat is leaking out in winter, or why air conditioning is less efficient in summer.
She praised solar energy but noted there are other options to consider.
“Here in New York City, we live in apartment buildings, and we can’t always put solar panels on the roof,” she said. “So we tell people they can change to a clean energy provider that’s total wind and solar.”
Lorence noted that large Catholic institutions — schools, colleges and universities, parishes, dioceses, archdioceses, charities, and hospitals — are being asked to participate.
Numerous Catholic organizations are providing how-to resources. Among them is the Laudato Sí Movement, formerly the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
Another is the Catholic Climate Covenant, a cooperative created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association, congregations of religious men and women, and other national organizations.
Not Just a One-Off Anymore
Striving to inventory all the available resources is Father Michael J. Lynch, pastor of Our Lady of the Cenacle, Richmond Hill, Queens.
He has a dual job as vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
He represents the diocese in the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (CADEIO), whose Care for Creation initiative he will chair, starting in October.
Father Lynch has also been directed by the cabinet of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to research possibilities for a Laudato Sí Action Platform (LSAP) within the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Father Lynch said the Season of Creation has long been observed by the Catholic Church with mild enthusiasm. Recent ecological events, however, might be the impetus for greater attention to the environment.
“Christians have been celebrating the Season of Creation for years,” Father Lynch said. “But nobody really pays attention. Now I think we’re actually seeing the effects of not taking any action. I mean, you’re looking at wildfires, flash floods, hunger, sinkholes, and mudslides. All this stuff is rolling in — it’s not just a one-off anymore.”
Already Made Strides
The Diocese of Brooklyn has already made strides to combat climate change.
In June, for example, Bishop DiMarzio cut the ribbon officially launching the Laudato Sí Corporation. The green-energy initiative placed solar panels atop the Bishop Thomas V. Daily Residence on Dean Street in Prospect Heights. The corporation plans to bring more solar panels to diocesan buildings.
Father Lynch credited local Catholics for asking if the diocese would pursue an LSAP. They approached him about it because of his role as the diocese’s liaison to CADEIO.
The pastor endorsed the idea and brought it up earlier this year at a meeting of Bishop DiMarzio’s cabinet, which he attended to report on ecumenical work.
Father Lynch said the bishop was well aware of the LSAP concept but noted the work had not begun in the diocese. That’s how the pastor was assigned the task to start researching the possibilities.
Those People are Miles Ahead
Father Lynch reached out to parishioners who had earlier asked him about the diocese’s plans.
They included Tom Hinchen, the Care for Creation Ministry leader at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Bay Ridge, and Rosa Waldron, who has similar responsibilities at Our Lady of Refuge Parish in Flatbush. Both work with Lorence at the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement.
After talking with them, the priest conceded that Hinchen, Waldron, and Lorence “are miles ahead of me on knowing what could possibly happen.”
The Season of Creation observance at Hinchen’s group began with an opening prayer service and will wrap up with a Laudato Sí-themed Mass on Oct. 3.
Meanwhile, the group also sponsors a nature photo contest and suggests that people visit a garden, park, or woodland for prayer and reflection on creation.
Waldron said the pandemic stymied her group’s activity, but recent attention to Laudato Sí is fueling renewed interest.
“We are in the beginning stages,” she said. “There have been some fits and starts. (But) things are beginning to percolate. We had a webinar series, and the last part involved Laudato Sí.”
Are My Neighbors Safe?
Waldron said the webinar training reinforced what Father Lynch described as a critical message in the pope’s encyclical and Catholic social teaching about care for the poor.
“We can’t talk about justice if we’re not talking about the poor, and so the manipulation of the environment adversely affects the poor,” the priest said. “That’s the argument often used about the depletion of the rainforest in Brazil. Or the mining that goes on in Africa. Everything that they wipe out of the way is stuff that the local people need.”
Thus, he explained, forests and grasslands once rich with biodiversity no longer support cultures that depend on hunting, growing crops, or crafting natural resources into homes.
Waldron added, “When one thing or person is exploited, it impacts that whole space, that whole world, that whole cycle. Which explains why there is a connection between climate migration, exploiting our resources, and sex trafficking because people who are trying to get to a safer place may be more vulnerable.”
So, Father Lynch said, protecting resources “doesn’t just mean, how am I going to be safe in this situation? It’s also about, are my neighbors safe?” he added. “How do I add to their safety? Or do I diminish their safety?”
Faith Moves Mountains
As Father Lynch explores LSAP recommendations for the diocese, Lorence, Waldron, and Hinchen described other things people could do — like signing the Healthy Planet/Healthy People Petition. (thecatholicpetition.org/#sign)
The petition says in part that “we Catholics and other people of faith implore you to take urgent action in line with the science for all of creation. Our common home and our common family are suffering. The COVID-19 crisis has been yet another alarming symptom of an ecological emergency. Humankind cannot be healthy on a sick planet.”
Father Lynch said the faith communities have to lead the charge to thwart environmental degradation.
“We can’t leave it to the government,” he said. “Any person of faith would agree that faith moves mountains, and faith communities in action are the easiest mobilizers for that kind of change.”