Sowing the seeds of Laudato Si'

Jason Adkins of the Minnesota Catholic Conference reflects on the challenges of sharing and living the words of Pope Francis

After I posted last week on “Natural and Human Ecology: A Panel Discussion on Laudato Si’, Jason Adkins, the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, shared some thoughts about the goal of the gathering and (I believe) how the event can be a model for similar discussions and ongoing actions that can bring Laudato Si’ to life.

The event's overall aim, Adkins said, was to help Catholics and the broader community “encounter the richness of Pope Francis’s encyclical in a deeper way than through what they may have heard in the mainstream media.”

He said that while many may view Laudato Si’ as an encyclical about climate change “or, alternatively, merely an exhortation to use less plastic and turn down the air conditioning,” the encyclical is about much more.

“It is about embracing an ethic of integral ecology that does justice to both persons and the environment,” Adkins told Catholic Ecology.

He added that the length of the encyclical can present a barrier to people receiving its full message and unpacking its themes. “So the Minnesota Catholic Conference and its co-sponsoring organizations (Catholic Rural Life and the University of St. Thomas) created a morning of reflection to engage people across the ideological spectrum who have diverse questions about the encyclical and its contents. “

Adkins said that fundamentally Pope Francis tells us that embracing an ethic of integral ecology requires what Saint John Paul II calls an “ecological conversion.”

“In other words, there is something in this encyclical to challenge everyone. That reality was certainly reflected in the breadth of the audience questions we received and which were addressed by our panelists.”

"We hoped to offer witnesses, not just mere teachers, who could inspire others and offer practical suggestions ... " Jason Adkins

Adkins said that he wanted to avoid the pitfall of such panel discussions or conferences that “can often entail people merely parroting well-known principles or repeating them back to each other. They can also be a platform for activists who misinterpret what the Pope is saying and use his words as a political cudgel, or a platform for those who want to minimize the ‘radical’ (that is, getting back to the roots) of its message.”

He said, “there is value in what Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin called ‘clarification of thought.’ Our hope in doing the panel discussion on Laudato Si’ was to help people understand what Pope Francis is and is not saying, so that they can better apply those teachings in their own life.”

“As Scripture tells us, faith without works is a dead letter, so it is important that these sorts of events plant the seeds of something more. But you cannot give what you don’t have, so ‘talk’ does go a long way toward clarification of thought.”

Adkins said that the first way the event organizers did this was through offering a panel with members who "actually are fostering or living the ecological virtues in their own professional lives," including a pastor of a rural parish who ministers to large farmers, and a small, sustainable farmer. “In this way, we hoped to offer witnesses, not just mere teachers, who could inspire others and offer practical suggestions for helping others and fostering ‘ecological conversion’ as well.”

Another way the organizers hoped “to translate talk into action” was by offering practical resources and next steps for people who want to live Pope Francis’s call to action. Those attending the panel received free copies of the encyclical as well as the Our Sunday Visitor guide to Laudato Si’, "which offers practical tips for fostering integral ecology in one’s own life, as well as a number of other resources for changing one’s personal habits."

“The magnitude of the problem Pope Francis describes is enormous,” Adkins said, “and his warnings are severe, so there is a concern that people will despair that they can’t possibly contribute to a solution.

“But as Pope Francis, a disciple of St. Therese of Lisieux, reminds us, we all can follow ‘the little way’ of our own, and the collective magnitude of our own small steps can have enormous impact. At its most basic, our goal was to bring a diverse audience together to think and pray about what Pope Francis is saying, and then offer them the beginnings of a way forward in their own lives, in their churches, and in the public arena."

Adkins concluded that “hopefully, sowing those seeds will translate into much fruit, but it will require those in attendance to take the next steps in their spheres of influence.”

Which is, of course, the challenge for us all.

Ed note: Has your parish or diocese reflected on Laudato Si'? If so, share your story in the comments or email me at bill@catholicecology.net

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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.