SAN DIEGO — A tree-planting initiative has taken root in the Diocese of San Diego.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ environmental-themed encyclical “Laudato Si,” the diocese’s Creation Care Ministry is inviting parishes, schools and individuals to participate in its “Trees for Life” campaign.
On Feb. 24, parish volunteers planted trees at St. Didacus Church and School in the Normal Heights neighborhood of San Diego — three on the western edge of the school campus and another four near the church.
“I think that’s the most we’ve had done in one crack,” said Father Emmet Farrell, who directs Creation Care Ministry through the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice.
Three weeks later, his team led RCIA students, mostly young adults, as they planted a macadamia tree in the front yard of a family from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Barrio Logan.
As part of the campaign, trees also were planted last September at St. Thomas More and Mission San Luis Rey parishes in Oceanside, as well as at Kairos House, a transitional housing facility in the Hillcrest area of San Diego for men recently released from prison or jail.
Two days before the planting at St. Didacus, as part of a $19,000 parish restoration project that included landscaping and installation of an irrigation system, Christ the King Parish in southeastern San Diego also beautified its campus with two trees.
St. Didacus School commemorated its tree-planting with a ceremony attended by Bishop Robert McElroy, Father Farrell and St. Didacus pastor Father Reynaldo Roque, with Principal Kim James serving as emcee.
During the ceremony, the school was presented with the Creation Care Ministry’s Green Ribbon Achievement Award in recognition of actions that advance the spirit of “Laudato Si.”
The entire student body assembled in the schoolyard to watch as student representatives, including first-grader Elizabeth Holmes, fourth-graders Max Moran and Cruz Gyamfi, and seventh-grader Cloe Rascon, assisted with the planting of the trees.
“A tree is a miracle of God’s grace and presence,” Bishop McElroy told the assembled students.
Describing creation as a “beautiful gift” from God, he said that human beings sometimes engage in behaviors that “throw the creation out of balance.” He said planting trees is a way of “helping to heal creation.”
Bishop McElroy encouraged the students to recognize the trees as “a sign of our hopes for our world” and to “know that every time they grow, this act that you have undertaken is more and more powerful in helping our world.”
The principal said that a group of faculty, staff, parents and students will be entrusted with maintaining the trees.
Dr. David Larom, a member of the Creation Care Ministry who taught Environmental Science at San Diego State University for about 11 years, explained that newly planted trees require more care in our region than in some other areas of the country.
“We try to emphasize that the tree campaign isn’t just planting one tree in the ground and then forgetting about it,” he said.
In Barrio Logan, Rosa and Beto Camargo accepted the ministry’s invitation to plant a tree at their home. She said the entire family, which includes an 18-year-old son, Jonathan, committed to taking care of it.
On March 19, RCIA students, catechists interested in planting trees and other parishioners converged on their home, listened to a blessing from Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano, picked up shovels and got to work.
We had RCIA candidates preparing for Sacraments, a high school environmental activist from our youth ministry, also preparing for Confirmation, Catechists who will have trees planted at their homes, and a few extras who believe in this mission.
“First of all, we wanted to do something to protect the environment,” said Rosa Camargo, a catechist at the parish, along with her husband. “And also to honor my dad, who passed away two years ago. He loved trees and macadamia nuts.”
The Creation Care Ministry, which was launched in late 2016, released a Diocesan Climate Action Plan last fall. The plan was inspired by the Vatican’s own Laudato Si Action Platform, a seven-year strategy to respond to climate change. Tree-planting is one facet of that plan.
The ministry made it easier to bring trees to parishes, schools and other locations. Using money from its own budget, the ministry is covering the $75 cost of buying each tree and the supplies like stakes, tie bands, fertilizer and mulch. It also inspects the proposed planting sites, recommends the most suitable types of trees, and provides training for planting and maintenance.
Larom said the Creation Care Ministry would like to see at least 10 parishes over the next year become involved with tree-planting or other activities to support environmental sustainability. Within seven years, he would like to see all of the diocese’s parishes and schools involved.
“Bishop McElroy said it best: A tree is a symbol of our commitment to care for what St. Francis called our Sister Earth, who is like a mother to us,” he said. “It is a wonderful act on so many levels, and it doesn’t have to be hard. Just planting one tree is a great start, and so much environmental education can be built around such a planting.”