On 24 May, we mark the seventh anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Pope Francis has helped Catholics to understand the connection people have to the whole of creation and that caring for the entire community of people and Earth is central to mission. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) invites Catholic parishes and communities to celebrate Laudato Si’ Week from 16 to 24 May in acknowledgement and appreciation of the holistic approach to care for God’s creation in the Pope’s message.
As Christians, we are called to reach out with compassion and kindness, and to contribute to Earth’s flourishing. We are urged to be more aware of the gift of our belonging to the whole Earth community, and to make choices to live more simply, in mutuality with all. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have the oldest continuous living culture in the world, speak of their sacred connection to Country and the privilege and responsibility of caring for every aspect. As Sherry Balcombe, coordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Melbourne, says, “Aboriginal people have learnt how to care properly for Country, not just for survival, but knowing this is important to the Creator Spirit.”
The experience of the Mary Mother of the Church parish community in Ivanhoe provides some pointers on how we might begin responding to Pope Francis’ call to integrated ecological conversion through liturgy, formation opportunities and events. A parish climate-action group meets monthly to pray, reflect and plan activities.
Since 2019, the group has run a number of events, including an online session in 2020 attended by 40 people, during which two keynote speakers explored the connections between their faith and their commitment to care for creation. The group contributes regular short articles to the parish’s weekly newsletter to raise awareness about the Pope’s message, to share information about initiatives in the wider Church and community, and to invite broader participation.
In 2021, a group of parishioners participated in a global, multi-faith action to raise awareness about climate justice. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis speaks about the value of bringing people together and of listening respectfully and non-judgmentally to a range of views in order to learn and grow together. “Around these community actions,” he says, “relationships develop or are recovered and a new social fabric emerges” (LS, §223). The Ivanhoe parish has also registered to take part in the Catholic Earthcare Australia initiative, to help them take further hope-filled steps as a community.
The impacts of climate change are increasingly obvious across Australia, with unprecedented floods, drought and bushfires, as well as an alarming loss of biodiversity through extinction of plant and animal species. The impact of human activity is out of harmony with Earth’s rhythms and capacity for regeneration, and there is an urgent need to restore equilibrium. Indeed, Pope Francis observes that ‘many people today sense a profound imbalance’ (LS, §225). So as we seek to redress this imbalance and to find our way, we are urged to seek new opportunities, acknowledge our responsibilities and renew our commitment.
Laudato Si’ Week helps us to hear more clearly the call to listen and learn from our collective experiences and to seek the guidance of the global community. Community resilience and empowerment together form one of the pillars of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which is being designed to support Catholic communities as they deepen their commitment to hearing the cries of people and planet.
The ACBC’s Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace says that while global social and ecological crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrate what communities can achieve together, they also reveal the need for coordination and support. The office has produced Laudato Si’ Week resources to assist Catholics in taking up the hope-filled invitation of Pope Francis for ‘a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet’ (LS, §14). The Mary Mother of the Church parish in Ivanhoe will be just one among countless communities worldwide celebrating Laudato Si’ Week again this year.
To find out more about how the Diocese of Parramatta is commemorating Laudato Si’ Week, visit parracatholic.org/laudatosi
Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM is a member of the Laudato Si’ Animators Melbourne Group. She also works in the Peace, Ecology and Justice Office at the Columban Mission Centre in Essendon.
Reproduced with permission from Melbourne Catholic and Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.