For the beauty of the earth

| July 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

Bolstered by ‘Laudato Si’’, parishes aim to engage, protect creation

A cabbage grown in a garden at St. Michael in St. Michael.

A cabbage grown in a garden at St. Michael in St. Michael. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Those that plant a garden work hand in hand with God.”

So reads a sign that stands at the corner of a garden at St. Michael in St. Michael. The quote is unattributed, but it could have easily been excerpted from “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation released last month.

Gardening was among the practices the pope championed, and he reminded readers that humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve, were born in a garden and commanded to care for it.

Parishioners of St. Michael in St. Michael dug the one-acre garden six years ago as a place to grow vegetables for a community food shelf in Hanover. In the years since, it has also become a place for strengthening community and reflecting on God’s creation.

“This is what the Church is all about — helping each other, caring for each other. If we’re not doing that, we’re not being good citizens, and one of the things that we all need is food,” said Carol Blesener, 71, who works with her husband, Chuck, to oversee the garden.

St. Michael is among a swath of parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis with gardens, and an even larger segment with initiatives embracing the Church’s freshly articulated teachings on ecology.

St. Joseph in Rosemount keeps bees, an insect facing the mysterious and devastating phenomenon of colony collapse disorder. A handful of parishes, including St. Boniface in northeast Minneapolis, host weekly farmers markets. St. Mark in St. Paul sponsors a “church-supported agriculture” program — a riff off the popular community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs, in which participants buy an annual share of a farm and regularly receive a portion of its produce. In Waconia, St. Joseph Catholic School recently installed 96 solar panels on its roof, enough to power 25 percent of its energy use.

All connected

Experts have described “Laudato Si’” — medieval Italian for “Praised be to you,” a repeated line in St. Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century “Canticle of the Creatures” — as the most comprehensive explanation of the Church’s teaching on ecology, but insist it’s not solely an encyclical about the environment. “Everything is related,” Pope Francis wrote, and noted threats to the family, culture and the nature of the human person as part of the Church’s overarching concern about right relationships within creation. For many, that includes reexamining how they use the earth’s resources.

A cabbage grown in a garden at St. Michael in St. Michael. ABOVE A cabbage grown in a garden at St. Michael in St. Michael. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A cabbage grown in a garden at St. Michael in St. Michael. ABOVE A cabbage grown in a garden at St. Michael in St. Michael. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Ahead of the encyclical’s release, a group of parishioners at St. Dominic in Northfield formed an environmental care committee to address ways the parish can be more eco-friendly. It supported the June installation of more than 600 energy-efficient LED lights in the parish office and school, and is backing the school’s plans to convert its heating system from steam to a 94-percent energy efficient hot water boiler system.

Both initiatives responded to a comprehensive energy audit the parish underwent last fall.

Parishioner Kathleen Doran-Norton joined the parish committee to connect her concern about global climate change to issues of faith and justice. A rural township supervisor with nine years on the township board, she’s been attentive to a rise in instances of local flooding and worldwide patterns of weather extremes scientists attribute to global warming.

“It was the experience with the hardships of the folks in my own community that led me to look at what was going on,” said Doran-Norton, 62, a retired information technology professional.

In 2013, she attended a climate summit at St. Olaf College that inspired her to take action, especially because of the way climate change affects the poor.

“The choices that we make in our lifestyle impact people negatively. That’s a moral issue,” she said.

“We may lose our loons and our pine forests, and there may be fewer lakes and the weather may be like Missouri where I grew up, but those are minor in comparison to what an awful lot of people in this world are going to experience,” she added. “It was great to see that connection in the encyclical between the impact on the poor and climate change.”

Doran-Norton said “Laudato Si’” challenges the consumption-driven American lifestyle, and found the pope’s call for conversion “pretty direct.”

“Each of us has something to think about [in] how we conduct our lives and the decisions that we make, and those changes won’t be easy,” she said. “We go through our lives and we’re sort of on autopilot, and this is going to make us stop and think.”

A garden sign at St. Michael in St. Michael. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A garden sign at St. Michael in St. Michael. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The difference a parish could make

Doran-Norton spoke about the need for people to move past the feeling of being “stuck” — a description also used by Basilica of St. Mary parishioner Donna Krisch, 62, a retired public elementary school teacher and member of the Basilica’s eco-stewardship team.

It was how Krisch used to feel — overwhelmed by the enormity of change needed to reverse the harm done to the environment. Faith helped her to move past a feeling of helplessness to believing small efforts add up.

“I started thinking about if everybody who was part of a faith community thought this was a priority — reducing their carbon footprint — what a difference that would make,” she said.

After initiating widespread recycling at their Minneapolis parish years ago, the Basilica group is spearheading composting for organic waste. It received a grant from Hennepin County to obtain composting bins, and its members worked with a county representative to label and strategically place the bins throughout the parish property.

“I just really believe it’s part of our faith and we have a moral obligation to care for the earth that God gave us,”  Krisch said.

She hopes fellow parishioners are inspired to incorporate the Basilica’s environmentally-friendly practices in their homes. Because of the group’s influence, she has started composting and is mindful of shopping with reusable bags and driving less.

The eco-stewardship group encourages bike transport and backs the Basilica’s annual blessing of the bikes in the spring. It is also proud that the Basilica Block Party — the annual fundraiser for the church’s preservation held July 10-11 this year — has been called “the most green and sustainable large event in the Midwest.”

Krisch is encouraged by the Holy Father. “Pope Francis is like the wind in our sail,” she said. “I’m just so proud of him, because in the end it’s all about justice and everybody having enough and sharing the resources. Everything he’s done so far has indicated that he’s not just saying the words, he’s doing them.”

The encyclical has prompted reflection in a range of forums. At St. Francis Xavier in Buffalo, pastor Father Nathaniel Meyers made it the focus of a July 13 presentation for the parish’s Theology on Tap series. Several parishes, including   St. Wenceslaus in New Prague, plan to begin studying “Laudato Si’” in small groups this fall. Deacon Bob Wagner, a pastoral associate at St. Wenceslaus, also addressed it in a recent homily, he said.

Deacon Wagner, 62, emphasized that the encyclical should not be read as having a political agenda.

“It’s being true to who we think we are as Catholics and stewards of God’s creation,” he said, adding: “He [Pope Francis] doesn’t care what your politics are. This is what’s going on and we need to address it.”

Back in St. Michael, the Bleseners and other volunteers garden daily under the patronage of St. Fiacre, the Irish saint of vegetable gardens for whom their plot is named. There, the Bleseners are often awed by the cycle of plant life and God’s providence, they said, seeing their role as being “stewards of the land.”

“It isn’t us doing this, it’s the Lord,” Chuck, 79, said of the garden, which makes fresh food possible for people in need and fosters deep conversation among its volunteers.

For Carol, it’s just a part of the overall picture.

“I think the pope is working in marvelous ways, and I think he’s changing the whole aspect of how we should live. I like him putting the emphasis on the poor and helping one another. He’s a fresh light for me.”

Category: Featured, Laudato Si