In the wake of Pope Francis' visit to the United States and his call to Catholics around the globe to take better care of the earth, the diocesan Care for Creation Committee continues to organize events to promote Pope Francis' message released in his June encyclical, "Laudato Si," or "Praised Be." The committee, founded in 2006, arranges events in the diocese to raise awareness of the environment.
Sister Sharon Goodremote, FSSJ, chair of the Care for Creation Committee, said since the release of the encyclical in June, committee members have been speaking to pastoral councils and distributing resources from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant, a national organization that promotes Catholic teaching on global climate change and disruption.
In October, the committee will also be encouraging people to take the St. Francis Pledge, offered by the Catholic Climate Covenant website that the U.S. bishops have put together. A link on the website, www.catholicclimatecovenant.org, allows Catholics to sign up to put their faith into action by praying, acting and promoting awareness of these climate issues and encouraging others to do the same.
"We're also working with the (diocesan) energy director, Carol Ann Cornelius," Sister Sharon said. "She's on our committee, and she's working on getting some information. The diocese has all of these solar panels on their buildings, but what we'd like to do is start offering information on what's available for parishioners for their homes, for them to have an energy audit, some grants out there and things of that nature, so they can get solar panels on their homes, or at least make their homes more energy efficient."
Cornelius confirmed since the early 1970s, the diocese has employed an energy manager who works in the diocesan Buildings and Properties department to reduce gas and electricity use in all of its parishes. Since the encyclical's release, the diocese has worked with the Care for Creation Committee to engage contractors in programs to provide energy-saving resources to parishes and, in turn, parishioners.
"We're providing them information about contractors that are NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority)-approved, BPI (Building Performance Institute)-trained and certified, and also meet the diocesan requirements before we recommend they go out to the residential facet of our parishes," Cornelius said. "NYSERDA has all kinds of residential programs that meet the needs of not only the poorest parishioners and residents, but also higher-income people."
Sister Sharon and Cornelius met with a committee of about 50 laypeople at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora on Sept. 12 to present these programs, as well as contractors who could help people through this process. The focus is especially on the programs to benefit low-income people, including the New York Empower Program. People who meet HEAP requirements for low-income housing are eligible for a free audit and up to $5,000 worth of equipment, upgrades and installation for free. The Care for Creation committee will also be working with Franciscan communities of men and women religious.
Sister Sharon said committee members encouraged people to watch the visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. on television, and listen to what he had to say to members of Congress. She also said people should contact local and state representatives to support the pope and his message of what America needs to do to care for the environment. The committee is planning follow-up advocacy as well.
"What we want to do, eventually, is work with Deacon Don (Weigel), who does the public policy for Catholic Charities, and maybe get some people to go to their congressional representatives and talk about the encyclical," Sister Sharon said. "As one of the richest countries, we really have a huge responsibility, and that's what he says in his encyclical, to be accountable for the way we care for creation, because our brothers and sisters in financially poorer countries are the ones suffering."
According to Deacon Weigel, the Care for Creation Committee has brought awareness to people in the diocese about the encyclical and that Pope Francis has called people to care for what he called "our common home." The committee has also moved toward trying to come up with practical steps for how people can truly live what is in the encyclical, not just engage in intellectual exercises.
"It should call us to conversion in our habits and in our behaviors, especially as we relate to the ecology and to the environment, and to God's creation," Deacon Weigel said. "(The committee has promoted) the need for prayer, and how all of this is a spiritual exercise. It's not just a social movement for the Church. Because it's based in the values of the Gospel, one of the important points to everything we do is the element of prayer, so we understand the theology, the spirituality behind our care for our common home."
Pope Francis' approach and demeanor seems to appeal to people. He is expected to speak clearly to the United Nations about the need for international cooperation and efforts toward peace, as well as make appeals to Congress about issues of poverty.
"He makes it very clear in his encyclical that the ones who are most affected by our poor ecology are the poor," Deacon Weigel said. "The poor are the ones under the foot, beneath our carbon footprint. They're the ones who are stepped on, and they are affected in so many ways, whether it's resources or the whole way their livelihoods, in some cases, are affected because they can no longer sustain themselves.
"I'm hoping, and anticipating, that since his latest encyclical, he may say something, particularly to the United States, for the right perspective on ecological issues, and our responsibility, as the world's richest nation, to care for the poor around the world."