Pope Francis Challenges Us to "Care for Our Common Home"

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By Lisa Biehle Files

In June, Pope Francis released an almost 200-page encyclical, or circulated letter, with a decidedly green focus titled Laudato Si’ or Be Praised. For all those fighting climate change, this was cause for celebration as well as time for reflection. Below, local sustainability leaders of faith—Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant—express how this encyclical will impact their lives, practically and spiritually. Pamela Todd, member of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest Gina Orlando, member of Ascension Catholic Parish in Oak Park Margot McMahon, member of St. Giles Catholic Parish in Oak Park Cynthia Klein-Banai, member of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest Richard Alton, member of Euclid Avenue Methodist Church in Oak Park.

A community discussion about the encyclical called, "Pertinent Passages"  will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 22, at Ascension Parish, 808 S. East Ave., in Oak Park. All are welcome.

Read on for personal reflections from Pamela, Gina, Margot, Cynthia, and Richard..

 Pamela Todd

Pamela Todd

PAMELA TODD Member of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest. Pamela is co-founder of West Cook Wild Ones and is lead content strategist for Siren Interactive. Her published novels are The Blind Faith Hotel and Pig and the Shrink.

What struck me most in Pope Francis’ encyclical is the language of conversion that he uses. He says, “In calling to mind the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, we come to realize that a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change.” It seems that he is calling us to undergo a transformation in our relationship to creation. A change in behavior is not enough. What he is asking of us is a change of heart.

 Gina Orlando

Gina Orlando

GINA ORLANDO Member of Ascension Catholic Parish in Oak Park. Gina teaches holistic health at DePaul University and is a wellness coach for her own company, Healthy is Wealthy!

I urgently appeal . . . for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.   --Quotes by Pope Francis from the environmental encyclical Laudato Si'

I love the courage, spunk and vision of Pope Francis. He and this environmental encyclical brought me back to the Catholic Church and to my parish, Ascension in Oak Park. I’ve been involved in environmental issues and action for 45 years, but I got tired and discouraged through the decades. I always felt that we ecologically active people were on the fringe, that we were climbing a mountain, and that no one had our back. I feel supported and re-energized now! Ascension just created a Green Team we call H.O.M.E. (Honoring Our Mother Earth), and I can’t wait to help create important, fun, targeted, creative ways to help the earth heal. I’m also on the EWG, Encyclical Working Group of the Archdiocese.

I was surprised by the level of strength and vision of this encyclical. The requests are vital and accurate, yet it’s a creative challenge for person and parish to figure out small and large strategies to care for the earth, her poor, her plants and animals. The Pope did his research for this environmental encyclical. He focuses on climate change, the fossil fuel industry, the obsession with profit over people and planet, the throw-away/over-consumption culture, and the impact of environmental destruction on the planet and especially the poor. His writing is clear, caring, and calls for actions from each of us. It’s an interfaith call to action to care for the earth, our common home. We can do it together. For we know that things can change.

Be Praised Our Sister Mother Earth, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Air and Sister Water. Excerpts from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun, quoted in the encyclical Laudato Si'

 Margot McMahon

Margot McMahon

MARGOT MCMAHON Member of St. Giles Catholic Parish in Oak Park. Margot is a sculptor and lifelong environmentalist who sees the human form as one with nature. Her sculptures are displayed in museums, galleries, and public spaces nationwide.

The earth has the right to be healthy. Pope Francis, in the encyclical Laudato Si', pinpoints the blame squarely on humans who burn fossil fuels to the extent of, “. . . unprecedented destruction of ecosystems.” A scientist by training, our Pope understands the serious consequences with “grave implications” of continuing to destroy the natural world in the process of making and filling it with garbage. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he declares.

I have never felt so proud to be Catholic.

The broken relationship between humanity and the earth is essentially a spiritual problem. The rupture between people’s insatiable consumerism and their irresponsibility to the world around them constitutes sin. This is an ecological sin that delays allowing the earth to heal. I have renewed faith in this message coming from this influential world spiritual leader. Every season and every day, all of us need to shift our behavior in small and large ways to heal the ecological disaster that we have created. Steps need to be taken by us immediately for the earth to regain a healthy balance. The earth wants to heal; we need to help shepherd its way back to health. We can start with the conviction that, “Less is more.”

People have the right to be healthy. Recently, Pope Francis directed every Catholic pastor to give a homily in every Catholic parish to the one billion Catholics worldwide to adjust behavior and limit carbon emissions. He provokes action for a conversion in humans to comprehend their place in creating this ecological crisis on earth. Our new direction of a moral awakening, inspiring human responsibility to the earth, reaches beyond Catholics to all humanity. This is an abrupt reminder that it is our responsibility to leave a clean and safe planet for future generations.

Pope Francis urges us to think bigger —beyond our short-term consumerist patterns. Wealthier nations must take responsibility for poorer people who will be more dramatically affected by climate change. The poorest populations will be adapting to rising sea levels, devastating droughts and floods without the resources to bounce back. Those nations who contribute more towards destabilizing our eco-system need to contribute their resources to build resilient communities for the underprivileged. Resilient communities is our new mission. It will take cooperation and contributions to enable safety for all. “A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:33

 Cynthia Klein-Banai

Cynthia Klein-Banai

CYNTHIA KLEIN-BANAI Member of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest. Cynthia is associate chancellor for sustainability at University of Illinois at Chicago, where she earned a Ph.D. in environmental and occupational health sciences.

My personal response to the Pope’s encyclical is that of hope. As a sustainability professional, my response is that this is a very comprehensive, well-written, interdisciplinary document that explains the threats of climate change within the context of a broad definition of sustainability. My hope is that more people will understand that climate change is an issue we must act on now, not just for the good of the environment, but for the good of humanity. My hope is that people of faith, particularly those who have worked against taking action on climate change will see the error of their ways. Even if they continue to deny climate change, others who do not have a vested interest – the general populace – will come around to actively support climate policy and take personal actions that make a difference.

As a Jew who has studied this issue from both a religious and scientific point of view, I was pleased to see the Biblical evidence that was put forth for this encyclical is the same as the texts that contemporary and historic Rabbis have used to discuss the environment. These include the laws of the Sabbatical Year and Jubilee (Leviticus 25), the protection of species (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), the misreading of Genesis 1:28 about human beings having “dominion over the earth”, and involving Genesis 2:15 that says we should “till and keep” the garden of the world. The Pope also uses scientific evidence to prove the basis of his claim that the climate is changing due to human activity. He pulls together the language of the Bible, science, economics, and social science to create a moral imperative to act.

The Pope provides an astute analysis of the current situation we find ourselves in and our inability to carry out comprehensive solutions. “We still lack the culture needed to confront the crisis,” leadership to take us in a new direction, and a “legal framework” to set boundaries and protect ecosystems. The Pope recognizes that people from many cultures and religions will need to work together and speak within their own language with their own people. Technology hasn’t provided the solution and scientific progress does not mean humanity is progressing. “There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself.” We need to repair fundamental human relationships in order to heal our relationship with nature and the environment.

The encyclical provides a variety of solutions to this complex crisis which requires an integrated approach to combatting poverty, restoring dignity, and protecting nature. These solutions require research on ecosystems and their regenerative ability. They must provide economic growth for all of humanity, protect cultural treasures and unique human identities, and involve local people.

Action on climate change will also result in building better housing; improving public transportation; inculcating the notion of common good through a unifying principle of social ethics; and providing intergenerational equity. The proposed actions go from the mundane to the spiritual and include replacing fossil fuels with renewables (specifically using the mechanism of trading carbon credits), international agreements which include oceans, energy conservation, use of environmental impact assessments, decreasing the pace of product consumption, reuse and recycling, redefining the notion of progress, awakening a new reverence for life, environmental education everywhere, and shared responsibility. These will lead to joy, peace, happiness, and love that result from less focus on consumerism.

Pope Francis has taken a bold and profound step by speaking out in such a compelling way for climate action. We are at a tipping point, and I hope this will tip us in the direction of change for the good of all.

 Richard Alton

Richard Alton

RICHARD ALTON Member of Euclid Avenue Methodist Church in Oak Park. Richard is an associate of the Institute of Cultural Affairs in Chicago and Africa. He is also a founding member of Interfaith Green Network and Green Community Connections.

The Pope is coming and he is not happy. Ok, he is not coming to Chicago, but he is coming to New York City to speak to the United Nations and then to Philadelphia, where America started, and finally to Washington D.C. to address both Houses of Congress. This could be the defining moment in history as the Pope drives out the money changers from the temple (we only wish).

The great thing about the Pope’s encyclical letter (who ever heard of a letter that is 190 pages?) is that he wants an open discussion and disagreement for free exchange to enhance our thinking. He wants to challenge the conscience of us all so that may lead to progress toward a “responsible collective answer” to one of the great challenges of our times. I love it.

Gina Orlando of DePaul University and the Archdiocesan Encyclical Working Group (EWG) and, even more importantly, a member of the Green Team at the Oak Park Ascension Parish (Ascension’s H.O.M.E. Team: Honoring Our Mother Earth) is preparing events for Oak Park. On October 18, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., there will be a Regional Interfaith Green Team Training at Ascension. This event will be co-sponsored by Faith in Place and CSIP (Chicago Sustainability Interfaith Partnership). All are invited, and the Pope will be very happy if you get involved.