Laudato Si’ made real in Minnesota

St. Paul, Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas welcomes church, state, and everyday folk for “Natural and Human Ecology: A Panel Discussion on Laudato Si’”

Bishops, clergy, academics, and community leaders joined more than 350 Minnesotans yesterday for a heartland perspective on the global and personal implications of Pope Francis’s eco-encyclical Laudato Si'. The variety and number of those taking part made the gathering the very sort of community, dialogue-centered event that the Holy Father and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace want to see more of.

Developed by the Minnesota Catholic Conference—that is, the bishops of Minnesota—and co-sponsored by Catholic Rural Life and the University of St. Thomas, the forum allowed participants ample opportunity to chat about ecology and environmental concerns from the range of perspectives that ecological discussions should have. In part, conversations highlighted the inter-connectedness of social and individual struggles and hopes, and it showcased U.S. bishops’ support for specific federal policies designed to protect our natural resources environmental legislation.

“Since the release of the encyclical Laudato Si’, we have received an outpouring of interest from Minnesota’s Catholics and those of other faiths who want to learn more about the document and about its major themes,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of event host Minnesota Catholic Conference.

“Pope Francis is telling us that if you love God, you will love his creation and protect it. When we treat the earth simply as raw material to be exploited for power and profit, we will often do the same to human beings. The pope is calling all of us to embrace a new ethic that does justice to both persons and the environment.”

“Pope Francis wants to reconnect that the nature ‘out there’ is inextricably connected to the human nature in each of us." Dr. Michael Naughton

Following a recorded greeting by federal EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, an event co-sponsor, provided opening remarks. “Laudato Si’ is a watershed moment for the Church and for the world. Pope Francis has given the Church a great gift that needs to be unpacked, and this event helps explore the significance of this letter,” Ennis said.

University of St. Thomas Center for Catholic Studies director Dr. Michael Naughton is hopeful that the defining ideas emerging from the encyclical are shaping the current and future conversation on the ecology in the U.S. and abroad. “Pope Francis wants to reconnect that the nature ‘out there’ is inextricably connected to the human nature in each of us. He is drawing from Catholic teaching and emphasizing that what happens in the family, as well as in education, business, and other human institutions, has direct implications to what is happening in our natural environment,” said Naughton.

“The integration of human and natural ecology, what Francis calls ‘integral ecology,’ is a defining idea that I hope will shape conversations about the environment on the global and national stage in the coming years.”

Rounding out Wednesday's participants was nationally-recognized meteorologist and entrepreneur Paul Douglas, who appeared in a pre-taped interview talking about the importance of raising awareness about climate change and conservation.

Bishop Paul Sirba, Bishop of Duluth, provided closing remarks.

Panel discussion participants included Cecilia Calvo, Project Coordinator for the Environmental Justice Program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who affirmed the U.S. bishops’ support of the bipartisan Nonprofit Energy-Effeciency Act, S.600, sponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND).

She was joined by academic experts Dr. Daniel Finn, Clemens Professor in Economics and Liberal Arts and professor of theology at St. John’s University, and Dr. Christopher Thompson, Academic Dean of The St. Paul Seminary, who specializes in Creation stewardship. Other panelists were Fred Callens, of Callens Honey Farm, a 35-acre family farm in southwest Minnesota, and Fr. Joseph Backowski, pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Breckenridge and St. Thomas parish in Kent.

The impressive group Catholic Rural Life (a membership-based organization serving rural Catholics, their communities, and parishes) and the University of St. Thomas Center for Catholic Studies were event co-sponsors.

Stay tuned for more news on this gathering and on the work of Catholic Rural Life.

Photo: Catholic Rural Life. From left to right, panelists included Dr. Christopher Thompson (a theologian at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity), Fr. Joseph Backowski (a parish priest in the Diocese of Saint Cloud), Dr. John Finn (a distinguished economist at Saint John’s University), Fred Callens (a honey farmer from St. Leo, Minn.), and Cecilia Calvo (the USCCB’s top environmental policy expert). Jason Adkins, the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, was the moderator.

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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.