Talk about ecology is heating up.
The Vatican hosted a gathering April 28 on climate change and sustainable development.
The United Nations is looking for Pope Francis’s “spiritual and moral leadership,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Pope Francis is preparing an encyclical on the matter, which is expected to be released this summer.
He will address the United Nations in New York on Sept. 25, as world leaders gather to hammer out a sustainable development agreement that will be up for a vote at a December climate conference in Paris.
The encyclical “will become the Catholic Church’s white paper for Paris,” said Father Robert “Bud” Grant, a Des Moines diocesan priest, environmental theologian and professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
“The value of it is on the grand scale. This is the Catholic Church planting a flag. This is the Catholic Church setting a precedent for other religions. This is the Catholic Church which, lets’ face it, is still a powerful geopolitical force,” he said.
The encyclical is expected to present ecology as the ultimate pro-life, pro-poor, pro-family issue.
“I tell my students, and I truly believe this, there are no more important issues than environmental issues,” said Father Grant. “Every other problem, social, economic, political conflict that we’re dealing with pales in comparison with the threats that we are facing environmentally.”
Pope Francis needs to address the issue for two reasons, he said.
The environment is the ultimate life issue because it affects current and future generations, he said.
It’s the ultimate social justice issue because the poor tend to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, he said.
“There are three victims of ecological crisis: the marginalized, the future and Earth itself,” said Father Grant.
In the history of Catholic social teaching, starting with “Rerum Novarum,” the Church has focused on the rights of the poor with a focus on the idea that agriculture is designed for the common good, not only the profit of the person who owns the land, he said.
Father Grant, who held the miter of St. John Paul II during his Oct. 4, 1979 visit to Iowa, said environmental theology was born that day.
“His homily on that day, is still very much emphasizing as it obviously would, agriculture and the role of agriculture, the dignity of farming and the use of farming,” he said. “But it goes further, or at least it probes into this idea that the Earth is God’s, not ours, and we are not its owners but its stewards.”
“Once you have stepped across that line, you’ve struck a beautiful balance between what I call an anthropocentric ethic. The Earth is a resource to be distributed justly, and an ecocentric ethic. The earth is God’s creation and that alone demands responsibility for it.
“It’s Scriptural and deeply embedded in our tradition,” said Father Grant.
Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the “green pope,” followed up by encouraging care for the environment.
Father Grant hopes Pope Francis addresses in his encyclical the intrinsic value in the Earth as God’s creation.
“Thomas Aquinas reminds us that the earth is one of the ways we know of the existence of God,” said Father Grant. “The earth is God’s garden. By wandering in it, we learn some things about the identity of God that are very real. There are traces of the Creator in creation. I just really, really love that. I hope that’s what he says.”
Speculating on what the encyclical could say, Father Grant added that Pope Francis could invite people to share in the suffering.
“Suffering is real. It’s already happening and it’s extensive,” he said. “We have to become aware of it and we have to choose to embrace more of the suffering, and share the cross. I call this idea ‘redistributive suffering.’ That’s what I hope he ultimately says.”
“Only religions, Christianity and uniquely Catholicism, can challenge the best that is in us to choose to suffer for the sake of others, even if we don’t really believe they deserve it,” said Father Grant. “It’s embedded in the Eucharist. It’s the crucifixion. It’s the essence of our faith.”
With international talks of mitigating climate change, and an upcoming encyclical from Pope Francis, individuals may ask, “What can I do?” to make a difference.
“What any of us do as individuals, in terms of the overall impact, it will be beyond negligible,” said Father Robert “Bud” Grant, a theologian, environmentalist and professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
“The reason to do it is because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “That’s core to my theology.”
“But communal action, especially as orchestrated by proper governmental channels can—and must—engage in order to make substantive choices that will help us mitigate and adapt to the new world in which we live and which we have, sadly, created,” he said. “That is what is at stake at the Paris summit next winter.
Parishes across the dioceses are reaching beyond traditional weekly bulletins and websites to appeal to parishioners and call them to action.
Corpus Christi Parish in Council Bluffs uses a blog, Twitter account and Facebook to provide regular updates to parishioners and the broader community. The parish will be starting an e-newsletter soon.
Ss. John and Paul Parish in Altoona has a weekly e-newsletter and uses Facebook pages for the parish, a teen group and the junior high youth ministry.
St. Boniface Parish in Waukee is tapping talent from within the parish community to communicate more visually through photography, social media and videography.
This is aside from launching a new website in each of the parishes.
In each case, a committee evolved that incorporates gifted parishioners volunteering their time.
Ss. John and Paul Parish has a committee of staff and volunteers, including a youth representative who looks at communication from a teenage perspective and offers feedback.
St. Boniface’s committee includes former Meredith magazine editor Marlen Kemmet, who coordinates communication for the parish, and up to 20 volunteers under the leadership Kemmet and Kayla Engebrecht.
Corpus Christi’s digital outreach committee includes about 10 people who contribute by taking small pieces of the work.
“It’s really a team effort to get it done,” said Christy Rhoades, of Corpus Christi Parish.
“I think there are a lot of parishioners who want to get involved, they just don’t know how to get involved,” she said. “If you can find someone and you know their strengths are photography, they can take professional pictures of your church, or if you know someone who does design work, they can make a banner or flier for you. It makes people feel like they belong in a way that extends beyond coming to Mass.”
With the help of volunteers, St. Boniface “has created all the things we did not have eight months ago” like a YouTube presence, said Kemmet.
The main obstacle to getting started was fear of having anything controversial posted, he said. The committee meets monthly to go over what will be posted so there are no surprises.
Sami Craig got involved in Ss. John and Paul committee as she was preparing for her confirmation. At age 16, she likes the parish bulletin, saying, “They are a good publication for those young and old, tech savvy or not.”
In the future though, she thinks parishes could better communicate with people using text messages or applications, commonly called apps.
“My advice for other parishes that are afraid or unsure of technology is to just try something,” she said. “Start with a small group, the youth or teen groups would be a good place to start, and implement whatever your ideas are.”
The Basilica of St. John in Des Moines has a Roku channel for those who’ve cut the cord from cable or satellite TV. The parish live streams its Sunday Mass on the Roku channel and its newly revised website.
“There’s so much that you could do it’s mindboggling,” said Rosemary Sloss, who plans to go to the workshop to see if the parish is on the right path and learn what more it can do.
Communication should make people aware of what’s going on and offer a call to action, Kemmet said.
“We’ve got to do things that make our parishioners feel successful,” he added, giving as examples pictures of award ceremonies, children dancing or youth feeding the needy.
There will be people who say, “Everybody knows,” but no, they don’t, he said.
“The first step is to become aware,” he said. “The second step is to become involved.”
To share what the parish has learned along the way, St. Boniface is cohosting with the St. Joseph Educational Center a one-day workshop called Digital Discipleship in a New Media Culture on June 19 from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. with lunch included. The workshop focuses on how parish staff and volunteers can energize parishes and share the Gospel. The keynote speaker is Scot Landry, author of “Transforming Parish Communications: Growing the Church through New Media.” A graduate of Harvard Business School, former chief operating officer of a software company, management consultant and brand manager, Landry established and grew a new media ministry in the Archdiocese of Boston before beginning an executive recruiting and consulting firm.
A free-will offering will be taken. To register go to sjeciowa.org or call 515-222-1092.