SAN DIEGO — “The cry of the Earth and of the poor is becoming more and more heartbreaking.”
That’s how the head of the Vatican office that protects life describes what is occurring in every corner of the world.
In response, Pope Francis is asking everyone to join a new global grassroots movement to create a more inclusive and sustainable world. The Vatican will officially launch this initiative, called the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, in mid-November.
The San Diego Diocese, meanwhile, will mark the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, with Mass on Saturday, Oct. 2, at 9 a.m. at The Immaculata Parish on the University of San Diego campus. The Mass is organized by the Creation Care Ministry, which itself developed a diocesan Creation Care Action Plan that outlines what individuals, families and faith communities can do to protect the environment and its vulnerable residents.
Both initiatives have the word “action” in their names for a reason. Climate change is driving more frequent and more intense wildfires, massive flooding, long-lasting droughts, all displacing millions of people worldwide. Earlier this summer in the U.S., hundreds died in a record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest. Wildfire smoke caused spikes in emergency room visits, especially among children.
“No temperature rise is safe,” said an unprecedented statement issued by 200 medical journals worldwide in September. “In the past 20 years, heat-related mortality among people over 65 years of age has increased by more than 50%.”
The encyclical Pope Francis presented six years ago, “Laudato Si’: On Caring for Our Common Home,” underscored how all of creation was interconnected. And it argued that the environmental crises could not be viewed as separate from social ones, and that solutions were needed to both stop the degradation of the environment and the degradation of the lives of the poor, disproportionately affected by the damage to the natural world.
The online Laudato Si’ Action Platform, to be available in seven languages, builds on the encyclical’s call to act. The Vatican office that is bringing it to life is called the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, of which San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, is a delegate. The bishop is a leading advocate in the Church on the principle of “integral ecology” advanced in the encyclical.
The platform provides a framework to help communities worldwide to act in different ways to become totally sustainable in seven years. These include families, parishes, schools, dioceses, universities, hospitals, workers, businesses, organizations and movements.
People can register on the platform to assess what they are doing now and to see how they can contribute to the seven Laudato Si’ goals:
- Responding to the cry of the Earth and environmental degradation
- Responding to the cry of the poor and vulnerable
- Creating an ecological-sustainable economy
- Adopting simple lifestyles
- Supporting ecological education
- Promoting ecological spirituality
- Building community awareness, participation and action.
Choosing the biblical time frame of seven years “enables us to work slowly but surely without being obsessed with immediate results,” said Salesian Father Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of the “ecology and creation” desk at the dicastery, at a news conference May 25 at the Vatican.
The strategy, he said, is to create a snowball effect by enrolling increasingly larger numbers of groups each year “to create the critical mass needed” for achieving real change in the world.
“The good news is that the critical mass is not a very big number. Sociologists tell us that, if you reach 3.5% of a group” or community, “we have the critical mass.”
The Creation Care Ministry in the San Diego Diocese is taking such an approach. Its members are working to improve the quality of life at a given location, one tree at a time. Their fall campaign is focused on promoting the planting of trees in low-income, urban neighborhoods, whose residents endure the environmental and social costs of having fewer trees. In September, the team organized tree plantings at the Community Garden for All Seasons at St. Thomas More Parish and at Mission San Luis Rey, both in Oceanside, and at Kairos House in San Diego.
Father Emmet Farrell, who leads the ministry, calls on people to see what is occurring through the lens of their faith.
“This is a spiritual issue, because we are stewards of the earth,” he said. “And we’re not doing a very good job of protecting it … There are a lot of things we can do to moderate our way of living. This won’t happen without some sacrifice. But we can be the stewards God intended us to be.”
This story was updated on Sept. 30. Catholic News Service contributed to this story.