By Marnie McAllister and Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” reminds people that “we have a shared responsibility for one another” and calls for “urgent action,” Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said during a June 18 news conference in Washington, D.C.
The archbishop, speaking as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the document, which was released earlier that morning, is a teaching tool and a moral guide.
Pope Francis “is painfully aware of what’s happening to our world and that we need to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care,” the archbishop said. “He’s speaking to all of us now. What does it mean? It’s marching orders for advocacy.”
Advocacy and other action on behalf of creation is already underway in some Archdiocese of Louisville parishes. St. William Church, for example, has been a champion of conservation for years. The parish uses ceiling fans instead of air conditioning and draws some of its energy needs from solar panels that cover the church roof.
Other parishes, such as the Church of the Ascension, have taken small steps toward conservation and plan to do more. (Read about how Ascension has started to change its practices and what the pastor envisions for the future.)
Tim Darst, executive director of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, which worked with St. William to install solar panels and with other parishes aiming for better conservation efforts, said the pope’s encyclical clarifies the issue of climate change.
“A lot of Catholics — a lot of people of all faiths — are confused about this issue,” said Darst. “The most important message is that this is a moral issue. There are human beings who are being hurt by this. As people of faith we are called to examine the way we live our lives, examine our laws.
“The hopeful message I get from the encyclical is that there’s still time,” he added. “We can still do something. It’s not all over yet. There is hope to build a future that is cleaner and healthier.”
Sister of Mercy Mary Schmuck, the archdiocese’s unofficial conservation watchdog who retired this month, believes the archdiocese is on the right track but can still do much more in response to Pope Francis’ encouragement.
“There’s a lot of potential and there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Sister Schmuck in an interview before her retirement from Catholic Charities of Louisville June 12.
Each year for the last five or so years, Sister Schmuck has surveyed 193 entities in the archdiocese — religious communities, archdiocesan buildings, parishes, schools and others. The survey asks what each is doing to care for creation.
At last count, 160 of those entities have responded to her annual surveys. They show “a snapshot in time” of what’s happening around the archdiocese, she said. “The motherhouses are doing the deep substantial stuff; the schools do the creative stuff and parishes are doing practical things that save money.”
St. William, which began its “care for creation” efforts in earnest more than a decade ago, started by raising awareness and educating parishioners, said Sharan Benton, pastoral administrator of the parish located at 12th and Oak Streets.
“Awareness and education have been big for us for a lot of years — trying to realize we are responsible, not just to one another, but to the environment as well,” Benton said. “Awareness is the beginning of change.”
That awareness led to several actions. In addition to solar panels and a lack of air conditioning, St. William has installed insulation and caulked and hung plastic around drafty windows and doors.
Even its Mass time — 9 a.m. — helps in the effort. At any later hour during the summer months the sanctuary would be sweltering. Parishioners also use real plates, utensils, cups and napkins at gatherings, cutting down the amount of waste they produce. Benton said volunteers wash the dishes and linens. The church’s retreat ministry —CrossRoads Ministry — also maintains a vegetable garden.
The encyclical, Benton said, “gives us hope.”
“It’s a sign of hope that we’re on the right track; keep doing what we’re doing,” Benton said. “There’s a lot of work to be done — let’s do it before it’s too late.”
Benton added that the church has now paid off its solar panels, which were installed in 2009.
Following St. William’s example, a number of parishes and schools have replaced inefficient heating and cooling systems with more efficient ones. They use low-wattage light bulbs and some have started recycling.
Archdiocesan buildings have taken similar steps. For example, bathroom light switches at the Maloney Center operate on motion sensors.
Several parishes have worked with Catholic Charities to host recycling events where the public can bring old computers and other electronics and dispose of them in a way that won’t harm the environment.
Catholic Charities has taken the lead on food production, blending care for creation with its migration and refugee services. The agency tends several community gardens, in partnership with other groups, where refugees grow food for themselves and for farmers’ markets and charity.