Pope Francis’ visionary ecological encyclical, written to the people of the world, energized this environmental and peace and justice activist in a dynamic way. He reminds us that care for the earth and the poor is our duty, rooted in solid Catholic social teaching. Pope Francis and Laudato Si’ inspired me so much that I came back to my parish to support and lead new environmental efforts. 

It’s a lot of time and work, yet there’s no more important work on the planet. Now we have a visionary encyclical to back us up! At Ascension Parish, we formed the Honoring Our Mother Earth (HOME) green team as an outgrowth of our long-standing and active Peace and Justice ministry. HOME’s vision and actions are a perfect way to care for Creation, our common home. 

We scattered seeds to see what would take root and blossom. Here are some of the strategies our 27-member HOME team engaged in:

Offering parishioners an array of ways to engage with Laudato Si’ through bulletin blurbs and quotes, the USCCB bulletin insert, group presentations, a film with information about taking action, and connecting with the school and the religious education program.

Launching our Zero Waste Initiative with the school, which promoted enhanced recycling and adding commercial composting. This was a dramatic and dynamic way to engage the kids, staff, and parish in earth stewardship. We reduced our school lunch landfill from 83% to 15%. For a school year that’s about 6.9 tons diverted from landfill. Small changes add up. The kids are very engaged and proud of this initiative. When second- and third-graders are asking us about waste reduction statistics, we know we are doing something right.

Planting a native garden, selling native plants, and offering information about non-toxic lawn care and alternatives to traditional lawns.

Hosting Earth-month activities that include sustainable food offerings. 

Our successful Zero Waste launch inspired a surge of support and gratitude in our parish for environmental initiatives, and our pastor acknowledged HOME as an important ministry.

We are now working to increase the energy efficiency of our parish buildings. Recently the buildings were measured for current energy and water usage, as requested by Archbishop Cupich. We already have made some energy efficiency changes. Replacing all the light bulbs in our four parish buildings with LED light bulbs is next. Energy efficiency and learning ways to reduce our carbon footprint in the parish and at home will be our focus next year.

In the fall, we’ll educate parishioners, school children, and religious education participants about reducing our carbon footprint, and then encourage a “Carbon Fast” for Lent.

We all must take to heart the principles of environmental justice affirmed by the Holy Father and adopted by U.S. Catholic bishops’ committees on International Justice and Peace and Domestic Social Development for effective climate change policy, led by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.

Let’s encourage a groundswell from parishes across the country calling for actions and policies, rooted in prudent sharing of the Earth’s resources and in solidarity with our least-advantaged sisters and brothers, to address the environmental crisis.

Pope Francis reminds us that things can change. We must change our ways and we need everyone. We are called to do this. These changes not only come from policy and individual actions, but also a change of heart. Laudato Si’!

Gina Orlando works in the holistic health field and teaches science and spirituality classes at DePaul University, which include environmental issues and actions. Visit our Laudato Si’ resource page to find out how you can respond to Pope Francis’ call to work together to care for our common home. [http://www.wearesaltandlight.org/index.php?cID=492]

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