As the world prepares to gather for the UN COP 26 meetings in November 2021, and regions continue conversations and making commitments to keep within a 1.5 degrees C warming scenario, we recognize that voices of US Catholics need to join with others to ensure the US makes its own sufficient reduction targets and inspires others to do the same.
Ecological justice leaders from eight Jesuit parishes in the USA East (UEA) Province recently gathered virtually to share effective parish activities that inspired their faith community to care for creation and discuss how parishes can engage in environmental advocacy at this critical moment.
Parishioners from Atlanta, Georgia to Boston, Massachusetts explored ways to draw upon the call of Pope Francis and the encyclical Laudato Si’ to advocate for God’s creation with elected leaders.
Nancy Lorence, chair of the Environmental Justice Committee at The Church of St. Francis Xavier parish in New York City, offered reflections on how her faith community’s environmental justice work evolved from education and work towards personal ecological conversion to advocacy.
The Church of St. Francis Xavier parish collaborates with other Catholic leaders through the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement. Together they met with legislators to discuss components of the Earth Bill, which includes more than 10 pieces of legislation designed to help transition the US from fossil fuels to clean energy, reform agriculture, and address environmental justice issues in a timeline that could meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals.
The experiences of Xavier parish emphasize the importance of developing strong relationships with elected officials and their staff. You can’t cover 10 pieces of legislation in one conversation, and we also need to remain in conversation with lawmakers as the legislative process unfolds.
Nancy also credited the Laudato Si’ Animators training hosted by the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) as an important formation experience for several environmental justice leaders at Xavier. She also shared the Healthy Planet, Healthy People petition for individuals, parishes and other Catholic institutions and focused on political leaders participating in the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).
Cecilia Calvo, senior advisor on environmental justice at the Office of Justice and Ecology (OJE) of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the US, helped put this federal US advocacy work into the broader UN and global context, helping parishioners think about how they can engage in COP26 through the Ecojesuit COP26 website and the work of the Vatican on the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. Cecilia highlighted Ecojesuit’s COP26 workshop series: Stepping Forward for the Global Common Good, as well as the upcoming virtual Laudato Si’ and the US Catholic Church conference on 13-15 July hosted by the Catholic Climate Covenant and Creighton University.
Parish leaders celebrated several successful methods they used to engage their faith community in care for creation work. These include establishing a Care for Creation or Green team, incorporating environmental justice into intercessions and other aspects of parish life, and participating in carbon challenges sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, especially their joint campaign with the OJE, Renewing the Earth: Living Laudato Si’ in the Year of Ignatius, which will begin in September.
Reflecting on past experiences of advocacy in small groups, parishioners shared the importance of drawing on themes of Catholic Social Teaching and papal documents, networking with other advocates, and consistency in engagement with elected officials. It is vital to get parish leaders involved in calling for advocacy in this pivotal moment for our planet, and also allowing people with different skills and interests to engage in this work in a variety of ways.
At different levels across the UEA Jesuit parishes, much like across the global Society of Jesus, this work has already begun but we are unquestionably at the beginning of a much longer journey to respond to this common ecological and social crisis. As Jesuit schools, parishes, and provinces continue to develop commitments and action plans to work toward the seven-year Laudato Si’ goals, we will need to lean on one another for support, inspiration, and the courage to change.
Nicholas “Nick” Napolitano is the Assistant for Social Ministries at the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus and can be reached at email@example.com.