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New generation gets to work to protect creation

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SAN DIEGO — Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Barrio Logan is planting the seeds of environmental stewardship in youth and young adult hearts.

Youth group members have been working in the parish’s community garden, while young adults recently kicked off the parish’s tree-planting campaign.

About 40 varieties of organic vegetables, along with various types of flowers, grow in “Jardín Manos Sanadoras,” Spanish for “Healing Hands Garden,” established early last year.

The garden, which measures 25 feet by 50 feet, is located at Salón Tepeyac, a few doors down from the parish church. It was the brainchild of Angelie Ryah, who at the time was part of the parish’s Community Resource Center team. It was intended to serve as a source of nutritious food, to create opportunities for interaction amidst the isolation of the pandemic, and to draw people closer to God through caring for His creation.

Since February, youth group members have been working in the garden two to three times a month. They planted lettuce and have helped care for their crops by watering them and pulling encroaching weeds. They were preparing to pick the lettuce in late April, with some of the produce to be enjoyed by their own families and the rest to be distributed to fellow parishioners at Sunday Mass.

Lupita Perez, leader of the parish’s youth ministry since last August, said the parish has strived to instill in its youth the values of “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the importance of being good stewards of the earth. The idea behind getting the youth involved in the garden was to help them to make “a connection to our Creator” and to develop “a personal relationship with creation.”

She hopes that the youth will be able to take what they have learned about gardening and apply it at their own homes.

In addition to this project, the youth group is cultivating an earth-conscious mindset in other ways, too.

For example, the youth group is practicing the song “Laudato Si,” written in 1981 by De La Salle Brother Damian Lundy, which they plan to sing during one of the parish Masses in late May.

Also in May, during confirmation classes, three youthful presenters will speak on topics related to environmental sustainability. They include Sol Parra, a senior at the University of San Diego; Patrick Harris Ritter, an intern with the Diocese of San Diego’s Creation Care Ministry; and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish youth group member Natalia Armenta.

At age 17, Armenta is already a committed climate activist.

Spurred into action about two years ago by the poor air-quality and other environmental concerns in her own community, she educated herself on the subject of climate change and sought ways to get involved.

Since then, much of her activism has been virtual because of the pandemic. But, more recently, she has been able to organize in-person marches and rallies.

“Youth have the most to lose to climate change and, as we see, the climate crisis is only getting worse,” said Armenta, who was recently introduced to “Laudato Si” and feels there is “definitely a connection” between her faith and her activism.

Armenta is grateful that Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and its youth group have shown such commitment to environmental issues, allowing her to combine her enthusiasm for that cause with “other loves and passions,” like her faith and her parish community.

The parish youth ministry also started using biodegradable items during its recent food-sale fundraiser.

Perez has found that young people, like those in her youth group, are passionate about the issue of climate change. She described the current generation of Catholic youth and young adults as “a ‘Laudato Si’ generation.”

The young adult community of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish has also gotten involved with creation care ministry, most notably through participation in a tree-planting campaign.

It was the young adults who kicked off the campaign with the planting of the first tree on March 19 at the residence of parishioners/catechists Rosa and Heriberto “Beto” Camargo, said Hilda Tapia, who coordinates the parish’s young adult ministry.

Because its campus isn’t an ideal location for new trees, the parish is arranging to have the trees planted at parishioners’ homes.

The ongoing campaign is being rolled out in phases, one parish ministry at a time, Tapia said.

In addition to the tree-planting, young adults also took part in a Taizé prayer service and “Ignatian ecological examen” on March 22, where they were invited to make a commitment to caring for creation.

Tapia feels that she has her work cut out for her as she tries to spread the message of “Laudato Si.” She noted that some young adults told her that they had underestimated the impact of climate change or had failed to consider how their choices might be affecting others.

A young adult named Angelica Piñon Palacios, a high school special education teacher, told Tapia that, for many of her peers, the priority is finding a good job or receiving an education that will lead to a successful career.

“As an underserved Latinx parish community, most families are too busy trying to make ends meet,” she said, explaining the challenge of spreading that message at her parish.

Visit the webpage sdcatholic.org/creation for information about the diocese’s sustainability efforts.

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