By Becky Sindelar
May 23, 2016 — From carbon emission challenges to newly installed solar panels to the 2,000 honeybees now occupying a high school rooftop, Jesuits and their collaborators have responded in force to Pope Francis’ groundbreaking encyclical on the environment. As the one-year anniversary of "Laudato Si': On the Care for Our Common Home" approaches, there’s been progress on Pope Francis’ call to action on climate change as a moral imperative, and yet, much more to do.
Loyola University Chicago students at work in a greenhouse on campus. (Photo by Natalie Battaglia)
Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace who was involved in drafting the encyclical, said that Pope Francis “does not leave us with a text but with a challenge of how to live differently, of how to pray differently, how to work differently, and how to be happy differently, and this is a wonderful challenge for each and every one of us.” And a challenge that’s been taken up by Jesuits and Jesuit institutions around the world.
Fr. Czerny delivers a talk at a Faith, Food, and the Environment symposium in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, recently launched a degree program in sustainability, and on-campus sustainability efforts, such as community gardens, are a university priority. At the university's Root Down community garden, Asian refugees plant vegetables and are able to connect with one another as well as with the Creighton community.
Barbara Dilly (foreground), a professor in the Department of Cultural and Society Studies at Creighton University, at one of Creighton's community garden projects. (Photo by Creighton University)
Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, hosted a variety of events during the 2015-16 academic year aimed at making the encyclical approachable and engaging to a wide audience. “As a Catholic, Jesuit university, it is our mission to critically engage the pope’s prophetic vision and to discern with our students how to apply its teachings both inside and outside of the classroom as well as in our own institutional efforts at becoming an ever ‘greener’ campus,” said Father Tim Clancy, SJ, associate professor of philosophy at Gonzaga.
Loyola University Chicago responded to the encyclical by hosting “Caring for Our Common Home: Conversations on Ecology and Justice” last September. Faculty spoke on topics including ecology, globalization and global health.
The university also hosted its third annual conference on climate change this year, “Global Climate Change: Economic Challenges and Solutions.” The three-day conference drew more than 600 attendees including representatives from 15 Jesuit colleges and universities.
Jesuit high schools are also starting new initiatives. At Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, the science department revamped the freshman science curriculum to focus on ways to become better citizen-scientists. “We became pretty convinced that we really were changing the hearts of colleagues and staff who previously didn’t really see climate change as a human justice issue,” said theology teacher Mary King.
King, along with two other faculty members, also created the Ignatian Carbon Challenge, an effort to increase reflection and action among other schools in the Jesuit network.
The Carbon Challenge invites both individuals and institutions to address climate change and environmental justice through a series of monthly challenges, such as going a whole week without using Ziploc bags for lunches, not wasting any food for two days or researching the sustainability practices of students’ favorite clothing companies.
At McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York, the Biodiversity Club and staff worked with members of a bee conservation organization to introduce 2,000 Italian honeybees to a new rooftop beehive at the school. McQuaid students will provide a safe space for the bees, which are facing declining populations.
McQuaid Jesuit High's rooftop beehives.
Jesuits are working to reduce their carbon footprints in their own communities as well. For instance, Father Tom Reese, SJ, documented efforts to insulate heating and water pipes and upgrade to more efficient lightbulbs at the Leonard Neale House in Washington, D.C.
Father General Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, said that Jesuits can help focus attention on creation by communicating the message in every place they work. “Each Jesuit is deeply challenged to discover how best to help the world, knowing that whatever we do for nature will serve humanity well, particularly the poor.”
According to Father Patxi Álvarez, SJ, Secretary of Social Justice and Ecology at the Jesuit Curia in Rome, initiatives include Tarumitra: Friends of Trees, a youth movement in India promoted by Jesuits that highlights the importance of trees and forests; the Pan-Amazonian Project, in which Latin American Jesuits work with indigenous communities in the Amazon to protect the environment; and Justice in Mining, a Jesuit network that defends poor communities affected by mining activities in a number of countries.
Jesuits and colleagues tour a forest planted by the Jesuit-sponsored Tarumitra ministry in India.
Many projects were up and running long before the pope’s encyclical, but share the same mission. The Jesuits in Jaltepec, Mexico, started a school 10 years ago for indigenous people who wanted a university that would teach their children care for the environment and economic solidarity.
“We need to have the tools, so the focus of our administration program is business, but it’s also care for the environment. For our communication program, it’s communication skills, but also the social organization of local communities. For education, it’s teaching, but also learning indigenous languages and cultures,” said Father César Palacios, SJ, president of Ayuuk Indigenous Intercultural University.
Students at Ayuuk Indigenous Intercultural University in Mexico work on a community garden.
In Central America, Loyola Marymount University is helping to educate Salvadoran scientists to help El Salvador address the effects of climate change. LMU professors are exploring ways to collaborate on a University of Central America project to restore a polluted river system in San Salvador.
Jesuits in Kolkata, India, recently installed solar power panels at St. Xavier's College to make them less dependent on conventional electricity and generate sustainable energy. Father Felix Raj, SJ, principal, said the endeavor expresses the Jesuits' deep concern for the environment.
Inauguration ceremony for the solar power plant installed at St. Xavier's College in India.
But living Laudato Si' is more than just about being “eco” or “green,” stressed Fr. Czerny. “With its point of departure in the most pressing issues of environmental degradation, it seeks to guide us towards ‘ecological conversion’ from our great sins of self-centeredness, which destroys both solidarity with other people and stewardship of our common home. Laudato Si' leads us to live in greater harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbor and with the earth.”
Father Dennis Hamm, SJ, professor emeritus of theology at Creighton University, reminds us not to ignore spirituality as we look to solve problems. “Technical solutions alone … will be ineffective unless we learn how everything is connected and allow ourselves to be converted by the grace of our creator.
Fr. Dennis Hamm, SJ, (left) participates in an interfaith prayer service at Saint John’s Parish at Creighton University. (Courtesy of Fr. Don Doll, SJ)
“Our call is to learn from his teaching and live out that vision as faithful citizens of the planet’s most powerful nation, serving the common good of an endangered species, the human family.”
For more information on Laudato Si’, here is a reader’s guide by Father Tom Reese, SJ, and ecology and sustainability resources from Xavier University. We're highlighting Jesuit-sponsored initiatives on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #LivingLaudatoSi.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.