"His Truth is marching on"

The Church and Catholic eco-activists reach across faiths, aisles, and continents as momentum builds from Laudato Si'

As we in the States have slowed to celebrate July 4th, the Church is in high gear responding to Laudato Si’. From Rome to the Philippines to Warsaw and New York, planning, forging partnerships, and building momentum have been the activities of the week and will be for the foreseeable future.

A determined response to Laudato Si’ began last Sunday with a coordinated showing of thanks for Pope Francis and his eco-encyclical by thousands from various faiths and continents.

Organized primarily by the interfaith eco-groups Green Faith and its offshoot Our Voices, participants marched from the French Embassy (as a nod to the upcoming climate talks in Paris) and concluded in St. Peter’s Square, just in time for the scheduled Sunday Angelus by Pope Francis.

"Nothing like the march to St. Peter's Square has ever happened,” said one of the organizers, Jeff Korgen of Green Faith and a founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

“Led by representatives of the world's religions, secular and religious people walked together to thank Pope Francis. Our numbers increased even more when pilgrims to the Vatican asked to carry our ‘leaves’ signs that each expressed some wisdom of the world's religions on care for the earth.”

Korgen noted that when Pope Francis mentioned the group after his comments, “fifteen thousand people waving leaves turned St. Peter's Square green!"

Lou Arsenio, who heads up environmental advocacy efforts for the Archdiocese of Manila and is also a GCCM founder, was at the rally.

“It was an amazing and positive time—all of need the energy of young leaders to take us forward.” Ciara Shannon

“It was encouraging to see that Laudato Si’ is so well received and supported by all faiths and various environment groups globally,” she said. Arsenio echoed Korgen in cheering how others joined the march as it moved through the Eternal City. “Catholic religious and laity who heard about the march and came out and participated to show their support.”

Ciara Shannon, also a GCCM founding member and the Our Voices Asia Coordinator, helped organize the interfaith march and thank-you rally. “The Holy Father called down to us—a sea of green leaves, white puppet birds and Mother Earth—and urged us to work together,” she said. “It was an amazing and positive time—all of need the energy of young leaders to take us forward.”

The Vatican reaches outward

On Monday, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was in New York City for talks at the United Nations. Addressing the body for the first time since the issuance of Laudato Si’, the cardinal quoted the eco-encyclical repeatedly in his call for the United Nations and the world to do what needs to be done to protect the poor and the planet.

"Overcoming poverty and reducing environmental degradation will require the human community seriously to review the dominant model of development, production, commerce and consumption. Yet the single biggest challenge is not scientific or even technological, but rather within our minds and hearts. 'The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions.'” (Laudato Si’, 175)

According to more than one participant, the cardinal’s presence and his words were well received by a body that is not always known for its appreciation of the Catholic Church.

Back in Rome, the week’s eco-activity forged ahead with the “Faith Rising Emerging Climate Leader Convergence,” an inter-faith gathering of some 120 youth and young adults from more than sixty nations.

Speaking at that conference was Cardinal Turkson’s right hand at the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, Fr. Michael Czerny, S.J.

“Fr. Czerny spoke powerfully and simply asking us to go back to our different faith leaders and discuss the encyclical,” Shannon told Catholic Ecology. “Pass it on, he said many times."

Collaboration was a key theme both at the Convergence and during Pope Francis' Angelus address on June 28th, Shannon said. "Collaboration for the promotion of integral ecology.”

Indeed, what’s happening in Rome and across the world right now is simply the call of the Second Vatican Council, especially as explained by Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Korgen added that when a Vatican official “came to greet us, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, and every flavor of Christian rose to their feet and cheered. Pope Francis addressed the encyclical to every person on the planet and has asserted a special role for the world's religions—and they are responding!"

Later in the week, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Alliance of Catholic Development Organisations (CIDSE) held the high-level conference “People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course.” That gathering brought together Church leaders, secular decision makers, scientists, as well as a wide range of representatives of Catholic and civil society organizations around the world. Joining them was Cardinal Turkson, who had just returned from New York.

Showing once again that Rome is serious in its call for dialogue with all, the event made waves in Catholic and secular publications for the attendance of Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein. Known for her critique of globalization and impersonalized big business everywhere, the presence of Klein at a Vatican conference left some—like our friends at the Acton Institute—concerned.

Such concern seems to overlook the benefits of entering and bringing the Gospel to conversations that are already occurring and will take place among others—with or without the Church’s presence. This is in part why the interfaith rally and youth conference, the coordination with the United Nations, and People and Planet First conference are intentionally doing what Laudato Si’ called for—reaching across faiths, aisles, and continents to bring people together to protect and care for our common home.

This may seem a new way of doing things for some Catholics—but then, they may not have been paying attention to the urging of Pope Francis’s predecessors.

Indeed, what’s happening in Rome and across the world right now is simply the call of the Second Vatican Council, especially as explained by Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are living in an age when the Church is profoundly embracing the world where it is—or, in the case of environmental stewardship, in the condition that we find it in, thanks to over comsumption.

It's really no different than the Church of the first few centuries. That was a time when many wealthy land owners converted to Christianity, gave up their riches, and served the poor. And that activity brought many to Christ.

(And as an aside, one repeated caution of Benedict XVI in understanding the Second Vatican Council was to not forget the presence of the Cross. Pope Francis and Cardinal Turkson are likewise reminding us of the centrality of the Cross each time they speak of sacrifice and inner transformation (that is, dying to oneself) as a necessity to change the world.)

Coming soon

Catholic and other environmental activists made known toward the end of the week that they are organizing a global “Season of Creation,” to take place from September 1st, a day of prayer for creation in the Eastern Orthodox Church, through October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis. Such seasons (or “times”) began in Lutheran and other Christian denominations. In the Roman Catholic Church, Seasons of Creation have been wildly successful in the Archdiocese of Manila and throughout the Philippines.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement will be announcing plans to scale up the work done in the Philippines. So stay tuned for much more about how you, your parish, and diocese can take part.

More immediately, Pope Francis's visit to Latin America this week will provide a forum to continue the Church's outreach and catechesis around Laudato Si'. Stay tuned for some meaningful comments and moments there.

And finally, early talks are coming to light of plans to bring environmental protection—that is, Laudato Si’ and integral ecology—to next summer’s World Youth Day in Warsaw.

Oh—and this really is the last thing—don’t be surprised if in some corners of the Church you hear about a return in abstaining from meat on Fridays throughout the year.

Okay, that’s it for now—or about all I have time to report on as the sun sets here in Rhode Island. It’s the Fourth of July and soon will be time for fireworks.

Which reminds me …

The Battle Hymn of the Republic is commonly performed and sung on the Fourth of July in both secular settings and Catholic liturgies. Given all the activity taking place in the wake of Laudato Si’, it may be good to consider some of its words.

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the Sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
His Truth is marching on.

Happy Fourth to my fellow Americans. And to all everywhere, God bless and get ready for a busy year ahead.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.