In his second encyclical "Laudato Si," Pope Francis asks all citizens to recognize the planet earth as a common home for all people and creatures, and to work to protect that home.
"I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet," the pope wrote. "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."
The encyclical, English name "Praise Be to You," has caused the diocesan Care for Creation Committee to design a strategic plan to educate people of the diocese on the impact that wasteful living has on global climate and the effect that change has on the poor.
"We're gathering various resources that are coming from the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, the global movement on climate change based on Catholic teaching," said Sister Sharon Goodremote, FSSJ, chair of the committee. "We're trying to collate all this information that's coming out for discussion groups, homily hints for priests to use so they can incorporate the encyclical into their homilies. That's what the committee is doing now. We're kind of in a resource researching mode to see what we can offer the parishes."
The committee formed in 2006 with a grant from the New York State Conference of Catholic Bishops. The goal was to educate Catholics on the Church's teaching about caring for creation, and to offer practical ways people can make significant changes in their lifestyle that reflect their commitment to protecting God's gift of creation. The committee has sponsored two diocesan-wide workshops and distributed educational materials.
"We were trying to teach people that the Catholic Church had a teaching on Care for Creation, and we, as Catholics, we're responsible for it," Sister Sharon said.
Along with the message of reduce, reuse and recycle, the committee will now be spreading Pope Francis' message of care for our common home.
"One thing we have found with the Church teaching on Care for Creation, it's always centered on caring for people who are poor because they are the first ones affected by things, and I think what Pope Francis has done has kept the focus on that, but also expanded it to say part of the poor is the earth itself," Sister Sharon said. "We often treat people who are poor as not that important. We don't listen to their concerns. We just use them to get better production for other people. That's sometimes what we do to the earth."
Pope Francis's encyclical goes beyond asking for clean water and lower emission vehicles. He asks that we consider the effect climate change has on people in Third World nations, connecting the lives of people Americans will never meet with unborn children of abortions.
"He really expands it to incorporate all the issues," Sister Sharon said. "This isn't just global climate change. It isn't just biodiversity being ignored and the importance of diversity in our world being ignored. That's why his encyclical is so long, because he's trying to incorporate every aspect of creation. Anything we do that lessens any part of creation lessens all of us."
The pope writes that we must set limits on our wants to avoid others from suffering. The rejection of self-centeredness and self-absorption are essential to care for other people, who must be considered our brothers and sisters, and the natural environment.
"If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society," the pope wrote.
"We have to look at people who don't have good water and fresh water and healthy places to live and clean air as our brothers and sisters," Sister Sharon said. "I don't want my brothers and sisters living with dirty air. I don't want my brothers and sisters drinking water that is going to give them a disease. I want them to have what I have. So, I have to live in a way that will make that happen."
Throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis uses the phrases, "we're all one," "we're all connected," and "common home."
The Care for Creation Committee works with Carol Anne Cornelius, energy manager for the diocesan Buildings and Properties Department, to make sure parish properties do not waste electricity, gas or water. Cornelius' job is helping parishes negotiate plans to reduce their energy usage.
"We do that consistently by helping every parish upgrade all of their heating and cooling equipment to energy efficient equipment," she said.
Cornelius has been working with government programs, mostly NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) to do energy audits for parish properties. These audits inspect, survey and analyze energy flows within a building, and examine how to lower usage of electricity and gas through the use of more efficient lighting and insulation.
Something as simple as installing LED light bulbs will save parishes money in many ways. The LED's last longer than traditional bulbs, use less electricity and won't need changing as often, which usually involves paying contractors and using power lifts.
"Our task is to help the parishes obtain those lighting retrofits without it costing them a huge amount of money in upfront costs, and they get the benefits of reduced electrical usage. So they pay a lot less. So now we're not changing light bulbs, we're not throwing them into landfills, and we're saving energy," Cornelius said. "There are so many ways that we are reducing our carbon footprint just by relamping our buildings,"
Building and properties will expand its role, with help from the Care for Creation Committee, to help people conserve energy in their homes.
"Part of our call to the encyclical is to take it to the parishioners, most importantly low-income parishioners because the poorest are the ones who hurt the most. They can't afford to upgrade their homes."
NYSERDA's EmPower New York program provides no-cost energy efficiency solutions to income-eligible New Yorkers. Nearly 100,000 people can save energy, and with free energy upgrades such as air sealing to plug leaks and reduce drafts, insulation, replacement of inefficient refrigerators and freezers, and health and safety checks of your smoke detectors.
Sister Sharon asks that people advocate the use of solar and wind energy, rather than non-renewable fossil fuels, and to read the encyclical and pray about it.
"I think the important part to do is reflect and pray," she said. "This has got to be rooted, not just in being and activist about it, it's got to come out of the heart of our relationship with God and relationship with creation and our relationship with our brothers and sisters. It's a challenging issue. That's why the pope is getting so much pushback."
To learn more call Sister Sharon at 716-202-4706.