On Monday, we observed the third Earth Day since Pope Francis released his encyclical “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home”
The document, released in June of 2015, made care for creation an explicit part of church teaching.
What progress have we made since then?
On the cover of this week’s Record, we see a bee buzzing Virginia bluebells in a local garden. It illustrates a new effort by Catholic Charities to encourage people to plant gardens that promote the health of bees, butterflies and birds. A small thing that can have big consequences if everyone gets on board.
As reporter Jessica Able writes, Catholic Charities has also expanded its Common Earth Gardens program, which now cultivates 13 acres at 11 sites around Jefferson County. Refugees and other gardeners grow half a million pounds of produce each year.
Last year, the Archdiocese of Louisville installed solar panels on the new Pastoral Center on Poplar Level Road. And St. Gabriel Church created a new playground that incorporates natural elements.
None of these things will change the world. But they’ve helped a little. And they’ve opened a few minds to the need for change.
While each of us can make decisions about how we live, some issues may only be changed by public policy.
In Louisville, air pollution is one of those issues. WFPL’s Ryan Van Velzer reported on Earth Day, April 22, that “more than 80 percent of the toxic air pollution released by facilities in Jefferson County is in west and south Louisville, according to Environmental Protection Agency records.”
Toxic air pollution in Louisville is mostly affecting people who are black or less-than-affluent.
Pope Francis warns us in Laudato Si’ that the most vulnerable people are the first to feel the effects when we fail creation.
He writes, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.”
The U.S. bishops have noted most recently that proposed changes to toxic air standards will have negative effects on the most vulnerable — pregnant mothers and their unborn children. The bishops expressed concern March 22 about a proposed EPA rule to stop regulating mercury and other hazardous air pollutants emitted by power plants
“The proposed change to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule is troubling since it is well-documented that pregnant mothers and their unborn children are the most sensitive to mercury pollution and its adverse health effects,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development added, “The MATS rule reflects a proper respect for life of the human person and of God’s creation — a great example of the integral ecology called for in Laudato Si’.”
Care for creation is ultimately about our care for one another. But care for one another requires more than the classic — and worthy — efforts to feed the hungry and house the homeless, for instance.
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis helps us understand how integral our environment is to our wellbeing and our ability to live our faith.
Part of understanding care for creation relies on our understanding of science. Beginning next week, The Record will have a series of editorials under the title Teaching Our Faith, in which science and faith leaders will explore the relationship between the two.
These editorials will explore the intersection of faith and science — how they interact, the church’s views on the role of science and the role faith plays in science. Please consider them with an open, curious and prayerful mind.