How should parishes respond to Pope Francis call to action?

Environmental activists hold a banner as they pose for photos after attending Pope Francis' Angelus at the Vatican June 28. Some 1,500 people marched to the Vatican in support of Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the environment. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Our Common Home

Pope Francis in "Laudato Si’" stated, “It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter...can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face” (No. 15). The urgency is not only on a global scale but relates to the local level as well. As the pope mentioned, “Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit” (No. 160). Change is taking place through efforts at recycling, developing renewable energy and curbing consumption but much more is possible. Each person can make a difference because whatever happens on the local level can have a ripple effect that will influence not only the surrounding area but perhaps the world at large. The local parish can initiate this ripple effect.

Awareness

Begin with the leaders: pastor, staff and pastoral council. As they become familiar with the document and discuss it among themselves, they discover areas for conversion. In order to facilitate this discussion perhaps two or three gifted persons could study the text and help focus it for others. This would be a great help for pastor, staff and leaders who already have so much on their plates but desire to respond to the challenges found in the encyclical. As the pope wrote, “Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us” (No. 160). Once parish leaders probe the document and discover what changes might be possible, they then share their insights with the parishioners using whatever means possible: homilies, presentations, bulletin, website, handouts, social media.  

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An OCH Committee

Receiving information from the leadership is not enough. Parishioners need be given a chance to share their insights and ideas as well. Managing and shaping this dialogue could be handled by a committee formed for this purpose. Using the encyclical’s subtitle as an impetus, the committee might be called the Our Common Home Committee. Its work would be to offer a number of options for parishioners’ feedback and suggestions, one of which could be a World Café process. People are divided into groups of four, each one sitting around a table. It starts with all the groups discussing a common question for 15 minutes, then changing tables to discuss another question for 15 minutes, and finally moving to a third table for the final question. No two people remain in the same group for more than one segment. Sample questions for dialogue might be: 1) What am I doing now to care for our planet? 2) How could the parish help me in my efforts to care for the planet? 3) In what ways could our parish become known as an ecological center?

Moving the Conversation Into Action

Many ideas will be generated through the World Café process. It would be up to the OCH Committee to translate the sharing into concrete actions. The encyclical offered suggestions “such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transportation or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights...” (No. 211). Other actions could be added, including tapping into the creativity of children and teenagers, perhaps providing rewards for the best ideas and projects. During the weekend Masses, people could give witness talks about what they are doing to protect the environment. An adult enrichment series might offer ways to foster ecological conversion. A checklist of personal actions to foster care for the planet could be sent to all parishioners. These are but a few of the ways in which the parish community could offer hope for Our Common Home.

Thomas B. Sweetser, S.J., is founder and director of the Parish Evaluation Project.

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