Laudato Si': “United by the same concern”

Part 2 of a daily series on Pope Francis's eco-encylical: Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake underscores Pope Francis’s call to work with all faiths

"Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing." Laudato Si' , 7.

Pope Francis opens his newly released encyclical Laudato Si' noting his desire to work with all faiths. He especially applauds the words of His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople. Pope Francis concludes his encyclical with prayers to all who believe in God as well as all Christians. In all this, he reminds us that the integral nature of creation calls for an integrated response from people of faith.

One real-world example of what this looks like is the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed takes in some 64,000 sq. miles, stretching from New York to Virginia. That means that all the surface water in that area—from ditches, creeks, streams, rivers, tributaries of all sorts that comes from all the roads, interstates, farms, subdivisions, cities, and what have you—ultimately empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Like other estuaries around the world, all this runoff—what regulators like me call "stormwater"—carries a hefty amount of pollution that can have deadly effects on the waters we love so much.

Thus the interconnectedness of the people, land, and water of the Chesapeake watershed means that the answers to its weakened health must come from a communal response.

This is where the Interfaith Partnership for the Chesapeake, or IPC for short, comes in. The organization is “dedicated to educating, supporting and motivating people and communities of faith in the Chesapeake watershed to care for the Earth and all its inhabitants, beginning with their own home, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”

"Water is the source of all life and through water we are all interconnected. Therefore, the way we treat water is a reflection of how we treat each other and those who will walk in our footsteps." Jodi Rose

I learned about the IPC from Amanda Brier, the producer of the NET TV documentary "Custody + Creation." Amanda had interviewed their executive director, Jodi Rose, as well as me. Knowing of my work with water pollution control, Amanda suggested I get to know Jodi and the IPC. Initially I was interested professionally. But with the release of Laudato Si', I saw this connection as providential.

“We know that issues like global water scarcity and climate change can be very overwhelming and often leave people feeling powerless,” said IPC’s Rose. “We remind folks to start with what they understand and what they can impact: their own communities.”

The IPC is a coalition of people of various faiths living in a large, complex, interconnected eco-system. As such, it exemplifies the kind of real-world relational work that Pope Francis proposes. “Everything is connected,” Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si' (91). “Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

In an interview with Catholic Ecology earlier last month, Rose said something similar: “Through water, we are unmistakably interconnected. Thus, through our respect and stewardship of water, we demonstrate respect and love for each other and for future generations. We therefore believe that we must work through communities of faith to bring about a transformation of awareness and action that reflects respect for this interconnectedness and the need for restored balance. We are actively seeking opportunities to engage and involve more people and communities in this mission.”

And what a mission it is. Here are the stated goals of the IPC, which I am sure Pope Francis would applaud.

  • Communities of faith will be mindful of the importance of stewardship in everything they do and seek ways to live in harmony with God’s creation.
  • Houses of worship will be models of environmental stewardship in how they conserve and utilize resources, such as water and energy.
  • People of faith will protect our home—the Chesapeake Watershed—and our neighbors in it from pollution, in sustainable and environmentally just ways.
  • People of faith will respect the connection between human and environmental health, and work to protect both within the Chesapeake Watershed.
  • People of faith will provide a moral voice for local and Watershed-wide policies and practices that support Bay and human health, such as clean water blueprint, local/state bag bill, pesticide use database, clean energy, etc.

Rose told me that “water is the source of all life and through water we are all interconnected. Therefore, the way we treat water is a reflection of how we treat each other and those who will walk in our footsteps. So, we must ask ourselves, are we treating water with love and respect? If not, then how can we say we are truly loving one another?”

She also quotes naturalist and author Wendell Berry, who said “do unto those downstream as you'd have those upstream do unto you.”

There are over 5,000 houses of worship in the State of Maryland alone, Rose said. “Across the United States there must be hundreds of thousands,” she said. “If every house of worship understood this phrase and truly tried to live and worship with this in mind, imagine the impact that could have on water, on our communities, and how we interact with each other.”

Interfaith groups like the IPC and Interfaith Power and Light show us that you and I, in the here and now, can work with people who profess different faiths because we share the similar goals of caring for each other, creation, and the least among us.

Translated into a real-world matter, we hear again from Rose, who is Catholic, as she brings an inter-faith perspective to the connections of care for the environment and care for the leas among us:

The Anacostia River here in the Nation's Capital is one of the dirtiest rivers in the country. And yet, most people don't realize that a study 3 years ago showed that roughly 17,000 consume fish from that river each year - most likely to supplement their diet. So, caring for water is about much more than just having a nice river to wade in or diversity of's also about caring for the hungry in a very basic sense. Jesus talked about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, but why didn’t He say anything about the environment? I suspect it's because it wasn't the crisis of the time. If He were here today, I'd like to think he'd say something like this: "protect the least among you from devastating environmental impacts, and you will have protected me."

What Rose has told us—and what she, her colleagues, and her partners at IPC are doing every day—is an powerful example for all to follow of what Pope Francis has taught us in Laudato Si': “There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself.” (118)

Click here to learn more about the many inspiring programs and efforts of the Interfaith Partnership for the Chesapeake. And keep them in your prayers. They're doing God's work. And they're doing it very, very well.

Photo: Flicker/Stuart Rankin

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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.