By Sister Maryann Seton Lopiccolo, S.C.
Pope Francis has designated the time between Sept. 1, the World Day of Prayer for Creation and Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, as a “Time for Creation: an opportunity to strengthen the common commitment to safeguard life, respecting the environment and nature.” Along with our Orthodox brothers and sisters and other Christian Churches he issued his message, “Show Mercy to Our Common Home,” urging all people to rekindle a respect and reverence for the Earth herself as a place for true communion and sharing. He offers mercy and forgiveness as means to be in dialogue with the present nature of the Earth and her people and to amend our ways of thinking and acting that are more respectful of creation.
One of the Church feast days that most people recognize and remember is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi celebrated on Oct. 4. St. Francis was a model of simplicity and appreciation for all of the gifts of God in his life. His spirit of poverty made him totally receptive to see the beauty and precious gift that all of creation is and to accept our responsibility to be stewards of God’s magnificent generosity. From the smallest flower to the wideness of the universe, St. Francis saw only God’s beauty.
Pope Francis was so inspired by St. Francis of Assisi that he is the first Roman pontiff to take the saint’s name. He has challenged us to make care for creation and for the poor a cornerstone of our Catholic witness. In his encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” he calls us to recognize that there is an urgent need for a “new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” He says, “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and that also unites us in fond affection with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother River and Mother Earth.”
Pope Francis, as an educator, has given us a new lesson on how to live the Gospel and follow the way of Jesus in our daily lives. His vision goes beyond the edges of our Catholic world and tells us that, “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”
Within the Diocese of Brooklyn, we also take seriously our roles as stewards of God’s gifts and educators of the importance of caring for creation in many ways. Many of our parishes gather for special prayer services on the feast of St. Francis and the blessing of animals. The young and not-so-young are eager to bring their pets and four-legged friends to the churches and schools to be blessed as special gifts of God. It’s a moment to stop and remember the simplicity of life and how God is present in everyday experiences. The Office of Faith Formation on its website has selections of prayer services, blessings and other resources to use in the classrooms, at home and in parishes.
DeSales Media and NET-TV offer valuable resources for us to consider as we approach the feast of St. Francis. NET will show CUSTODY + CREATION, a visually moving documentary, which follows scientists, theologians and the passionate people behind local causes, as they present viable solutions for taking on the issues of what Pope Francis calls a “disposable culture.” It examines faith at the crossroads of our environment drawing on experts from many perspectives. Currents, NET’s nightly news show will also feature different “green initiatives” happening around the diocese each week.
We know that there are serious efforts being made by many families, parishes and neighborhoods to preserve our green spaces, tend gardens and conserve energy. Becoming more sensitive to the relationship between the earth which suffers and those who have less than they need and suffer limitations is a gospel vision which calls us to agree with Pope Francis “to become creative in developing new and practical forms of charitable outreach as concrete expressions of the way of mercy.”
Sister Maryann Lopiccolo, S.C., is the episcopal delegate for religious in Brooklyn and Queens.