By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
As Pope Francis released his eagerly anticipated encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” June 18, those who attended Mass at the Church of the Ascension that morning shared with Father Steven Henriksen their enthusiasm for the document.
“It is being greeted and will be greeted with open arms,” said Father Henriksen, pastor of Ascension, in a phone interview a few hours after the document was released.
Father Henriksen said the pope’s encyclical provides parishes and pastors with a moral framework “to draw attention to the general issue” of being good stewards of God’s creation.
“It calls us to be even more vigilant in preaching and teaching and moving forward with the way we use resources in a
manner that is friendly to the environment,” he said.
The subtitle of the encyclical “our common home” is important, Father Henriksen noted.
“When people think of the church, they don’t necessarily think of the Vatican or the U.S. bishops’ conference, they think about their parish,” he said. “For many people, their parish is their home.”
For several years, the church on Lynnbrook Drive has engaged in numerous “green” initiatives, Father Henriksen said. Some of these have included:
- Replacing incandescent light bulbs in campus facilities with more energy efficient ones.
- Taking part in single stream recycling. Ascension students have been asked to separate their lunch-related waste into different barrels for recycling.
- Recycling of electronic products.
- Collecting 800 pounds of plastic lids which were turned into two new outdoor benches for the parish property.
- Monitoring the release of carbon dioxide emissions in the area through a partnership with Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light.
- Replacing plastic utensils with silverware in the school cafeteria.
- Installing programmable thermostats.
Father Henriksen said Ascension has plans to take additional steps in the wake of Pope Francis’ call to “develop a deeper awareness of the environmental challenges which result from human activity.”
Father Henriksen said he and the parish staff plan to form discussion groups to reflect upon the pope’s letter. In addition, Ascension is in the process of designing two educational programs for students of the parish school.
“In the fall, the topic will be Catholic social teaching, of which protecting God’s creation is one,” he said.
A set of 10 50-minute sessions for seventh-graders will feature speakers and discussions. And Father Henriksen said he hopes the sessions will result in action.
In the spring, he said, a similar set of sessions will be offered to the eighth-graders with a special focus on protecting God’s creation. The eighth-grade class already has plans to take part in an environmental-themed visit to Yosemite National Park in California next spring.
Ascension also plans to seek certification as a “Cool Congregation,” a designation which is sponsored by Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light. The program “explores the ways that faith communities can become better stewards of the planet,” according to the organization’s website.
Father Henriksen said he also plans to devote portions of his homilies to Pope Francis’ encyclical in the coming months. Caring for the environment is a fundamental part of his own identity, not only as a priest but as a human being, he added.
“I have an obligation to do my part. … For me it’s personally meaningful; it’s spiritually meaningful. I consider my own identity as a Christian as being called to protect God’s creation,” he said.