As we come together to celebrate World Environment Day and reflect on this year’s theme of “Raise your Voice, Not the Sea Level”, it is important to consider how we as Christians can both support communities significantly impacted by global warming and respond to Pope Francis’ call to be “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment”.
Social and Environmental Justice are increasingly interwoven themes in the dialogue around global warming and climate change. The integration of the human with the environmental, of justice with ecology and peace, is at the heart of the future work and mission of the Church around the world. This call to social and environmental justice has been supported heavily by the Vatican since Pope John Paul II called for “an ecological conversion” of humanity (2001). Similarly, in his 2009 World Day of Peace address, Pope Benedict XVI called attention to the importance of the integrated focus of the human and environmental, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation.”
In response to this need for education and an urgent community response to the environmental crises we face, Catholic Earthcare Australia, the ecological agency of the Catholic Church in Australia, has developed a variety of initiatives to support and stimulate an ecological conversion for all people of good will since inception in 2002. Catholic Earthcare’s programs focus on education and a radical transformation at the individual, organisational and community levels, with the purpose of inspiring a shift towards a more sustainable, ecologically conscious future. The importance of this education was expressed beautifully by Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB of Honduras at the opening address of the joint conference of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Science; “Our primary environmental strategy should be environmental education….through an education on the environment, individuals, societies and states will become aware of the transcendent meaningfulness of the world around us. Education will thus enable us to constructively absorb the skills, the experience, the values and the determination that will prompt us to work to solve both present and future problems in this realm and address them as challenges pertaining to our responsibility for the sustainability of both the environment and mankind.” (2 May, 2014).
Launched in 2008, Catholic Earthcare’s ASSISI initiative (or A Strategic, Systems-based, Integrated Sustainability Initiative) builds organisational capacity for strategic and integrated sustainable practices to emerge. Bringing together Catholic social teaching, theology and science, ASSISI is about animating our will to act as sustainers of God’s creation, responding to the signs of the times and developing a vision and practical projects for how we can bring about positive change in our communities. Crucially ASSISI provides formation opportunities for people from different communities to come together, reflect, learn and collaborate around a learning community model that continually animates people in bringing about this vision of sustainable positive change.
The principles that sit at the heart of the work of Catholic Earthcare Australia include participation, communion, innovation and transformation. These principles are now being taken to every diocese in Australia, through the NEEN Initiative. Catholic Earthcare, along with key partners such as Church Resources, the Uniting Church Vic/Tas Synod, Energetics, Envisi, Institute for Sustainable Futures, ARRCC and Spark!, have recently launched a new community initiative that is enabling organisations to take action to reduce energy consumption and in doing so, actively respond to the urgent issue of climate change. The National Energy Efficiency Network (NEEN) is a member-based network enabling not-for-profit and faith-based community organisations to take charge of their energy future and promote “an education on environmental values that encourages a culture of vitality, healthiness, respect and responsibility, and that builds individuals endowed with a discerning and participative conscience”.
The spirit of participation is one we see modelled in everything Jesus did and said. Embracing the call to participate in God’s plan is what Catholic Earthcare sees as critical to shift from the actions of a ‘champion’ in each organisation to every person taking responsibility. Together we are then able to collaborate, to find new ways of living and being that are ecologically attuned. Humanity is called in a special way to participate with Creation and this is what ASSISI seeks to uncover for each person, each in a particular place and distinct context.
The joy, hope and peace experienced by living one’s ecological vocation is evidence for me that we are called to live a life that includes loving God and loving all the gifts of Creation around us. Coming into closer relationship with nature brings us closer to our Creator. Being deeply connected to the places where we live and work is, I believe, God’s intention. How we respond to the places we inhabit is entirely up to each one of us.
The launch of NEEN in Newcastle will take place following the launch event in Sydney on 16 July and all are welcome. For more information please P Simon Habel, NEEN Regional Leader NSW/ACT at Catholic Earthcare Australia 8920 0719 or E firstname.lastname@example.org. NEEN is supported by The Commonwealth Department of Industry. Please visit www.neen.org.au and www.catholicearthcare.org.au.