Father James Flynn, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, had his last official assignment years ago. But at 94, he continues to embrace a distinct call to serve the world’s poor.
For years he did that in Central and Latin America, caring for impoverished people there, and at home, advocating for immigrants and refugees. As he has slowed down, his efforts have shifted to a new way to care for the poor — caring for creation and educating others to do the same.
“The climate is affecting everyone as it is changing, but it is affecting the poor mostly, people in poor countries,” he said during a recent interview. “People are coming to our own borders because of the change. I’ve seen it first hand — people in Central America coming to our borders as their crops are drying up, particularly coffee.”
Faced with such a large, global problem, Father Flynn said he wonders, “What can a little person like I do for such a big problem? It makes you feel helpless against the enormity of what needs to be done. It does to me.”
While he makes his own small efforts — such as keeping his home cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer — he has also become a sort of care for creation missionary, sharing Pope Francis’ encyclical on creation, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” with whoever will listen.
He has offered presentations in parishes and, most recently, he led a four-part series on “Understanding Laudato Si’ ” with local educator Cory Lockhart. The series drew participants from around the country.
In late July, Father Flynn’s efforts were honored by the national Catholic Climate Covenant. He was one of four recipients in the individual category of the U.S. Laudato Si’ Champions Award.
Dan Misleh, founder of Catholic Climate Covenant, said in presenting the award, that Father Flynn “has been hard at work educating folks about Laudato Si’ since it was released.”
In accepting the award, Father Flynn thanked his friend David Horvath and those who nominated him, Joanne Feldman and Fathers Roy Stiles and Robert Osborne.
“They know I’ll take whatever venue I can find to expose people to what ‘Laudato Si’ ’ is saying,” Father Flynn said.
Since he first read the document, Father Flynn said, he has felt inspired to share it.
“I downloaded it, I printed it, began reading and couldn’t put it down. So pointed, poetic, practical and mystical were Pope Francis’ words,” he said in accepting the award. “It made me feel compelled somehow or other to share this with others.”
While his 45-slide presentation breaks down the chapters of “Laudato Si’,” he said anyone can read the document.
“People think an encyclical is very ponderous, out of my range or really heavy,” he noted. “This is very readable and accessible. … It’s for an ordinary person to read.” It is available on the Vatican’s website, vatican.va.
He also recommends viewing “The Letter,” a documentary about the encyclical (letter). It is available to view for free on YouTube. Find the link and more information at theletterfilm.org.This fall, Christians around the world will celebrate the ecumenical Season of Creation. Father Flynn encourages all to join him and Pope Francis in observing the 45-day season. It begins Sept. 1 and concludes on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. For more information, visit seasonofcreation.org.