SAN DIEGO — It’s not the first thing you’d probably expect to see inside a church.
But there were trees in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Barrio Logan during the 6 p.m. Mass on Nov. 16 – and they weren’t Christmas trees either.
Jesuit Father Scott Santarosa, pastor, blessed 22 trees acquired through the diocesan Creation Care Ministry’s free tree-planting program. The program is administered by Dr. David Larom, a member of the ministry who taught Environmental Science at San Diego State University for about 11 years.
The urban tree canopy in San Diego has stalled at 13% coverage, despite a climate-action goal to grow it to 15% by 2020. This has left residents vulnerable to serious public health threats, such as heat stroke and skin cancer.
According to Voice of San Diego, Barrio Logan’s coverage is as low as 1% — an example of what is commonly acknowledged as “environmental injustice,” the idea that poor and marginalized communities are often hardest hit by the effects of environmental degradation.
The Mass was celebrated on the 33rd anniversary of the martyrdom of six Jesuit priests, who spoke out against the government of El Salvador on behalf of the poor and who advocated for peace in their war-torn country. They were brutally murdered at their residence on the campus of Central American University, along with the caretaker’s wife and her teenage daughter. A rose garden now stands as a reminder of the lives that were lost.
The Gospel for the day was the Parable of the Talents, in which a master entrusts his servants with sums of money in his absence — one with five talents (coins), another with two, and the third with one — and, upon his return, holds them accountable for how they had managed his money. The first two servants, who invested the talents and made a profit, were rewarded; the third servant, who buried his talent and therefore returned it without any interest, was punished.
In his homily, Father Santarosa contrasted the third servant with the Jesuit martyrs. He said the latter took the gifts they had been given and did all they could to bring forth the kingdom of God. They didn’t hide comfortably in quiet classrooms; rather, the ground where they were murdered now springs forth with roses, a sign of their sacrifice.
Father Santarosa then turned to the congregation and, presenting them with the trees, invited them to pour themselves into the tasks of caring for and nurturing them. He said the parishioners who would be taking the trees home with them would be acting as co-creators with God, collaborators in His goodness.
The trees will not only benefit their own homes, he said, but will offer much needed new life to a neighborhood long characterized by environmental injustice.
For more information about the diocesan tree-planting program, contact Christina Bagaglio Slentz, the Office for Life, Peace and Justice’s associate director for Creation Care Ministry, at email@example.com.