At the first in-person “social justice reflection evening” for the Archdiocese of Sydney and the dioceses of Parramatta and Broken Bay since 2019, parishioners and agency representatives heard of the dire state of the Australian and global environments and were encouraged to become agents for change.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, addressed by Zoom those who had made the journey to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Seven Hills, for the event held on Wednesday 20 July 2022. He referred to the Australian State of the Environment Report that had been released the day prior by the Australian Government, describing it as “grim reading on all fronts”.
Bishop Vincent reminded participants of the call of the Catholic Church in Australia which used the phrase “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor” for its social justice statement for 2021–22.
“This call to action,” said Bishop Vincent, “obliges us not only to care for our common home as a matter of planetary sustainability but also a sense of God-given stewardship.”
Bishop Vincent invoked the example of St Francis of Assisi, who understood that creation is “infused” with the love of God, and that the world itself reveals the divine Word.
“He understood the importance of living not as a self-centred individual but as part of the larger family of all creation with one Creator God,” said Bishop Vincent about St Francis. “He championed the art of living in deep harmony and communion within this family.”
Bishop Vincent noted the importance of resting, reflecting on the welfare of others and giving thanks for creation on the Sabbath, telling the audience this biblical tradition, which our Christian Sunday is related to, is an antidote to the rushed ‘open all hours’ ways of today’s society.
Bishop Vincent concluded with a reminder that the Plenary Council, including all Australian bishops, has committed the Church in Australia to join the international Laudato Si’ Action Platform spearheaded by Pope Francis.
Jesuit Social Services’ Claire Thomas and Catholic Earthcare’s Sue Martin, also a parishioner of St Madeleine’s Parish, Kenthurst, led attendees through an ecological reflection before Bishop Vincent and a second keynote speaker shared their presentations. The second speaker was Thuy Linh Nguyen, community organiser at the Sydney Alliance.
Thuy, who arrived in Australia as a refugee, explained the need to represent the people in Australian society who are heavily impacted by climate change, noting some families in Western Sydney need to sleep outdoors in summer due to housing that is unsuitable for extreme heat, and referencing those whose homes were destroyed by floods. She outlined the Alliance’s advocacy for renewable energy and affordable housing, the need for subsidies to low-income families to access solar power, and community empowerment strategies through training people on how to switch to renewables. She outlined the need to “plan our community’s future, rather than just react,” and gave a shout-out to some parishes in the Diocese of Parramatta who are taking a multi-faith approach to environmental issues and have started opening their parish buildings to those needing to escape the heat.
After discussing the keynote presentations in small groups, attendees shared their own thoughts. One group highlighted how Catholic parishes and schools can have influence in their local community, and to leverage this in a call for change and action around the environment, which Christians regard as God’s creation. Others noted the need for common language around sustainability that could be applied to parishes, so it was easier for parishes to support each other.
Sue Martin noted the atmosphere of joy, and hopes it encourages more parishes and schools to sign up to Catholic Earthcare’s Parishes and Schools Programs, which help guide them into developing their own “Laudato Si’ Action Plans”. In the Diocese of Parramatta, this is being encouraged by a Diocesan Laudato Si’ Action Campaign, and four parishes are already onboard. “This event created a spirit oozing ideas,” Sue said. “Bishop Vincent gave us the call, and we said we could do it. It was a night of saying ‘We can do it’.”
The Catholic Church in Australia has committed to a seven-year journey towards achieving Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ Goals, recently confirmed at the Plenary Council in early July 2022. With its Laudato Si’ Action Campaign, the Diocese of Parramatta has taken the first step, pledging its commitment, and inviting others to take action. You can see the campaign launch video here.
Find out more about how Catholic Earthcare can help parishes, schools and families work towards meeting the Laudato Si’ Goals of caring for our common home here.
View images from the Tri-Diocesan Social Justice Reflection evening here or below: