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Action for Ecological Justice conference

Dr. Carolyn Woo, former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (right) poses for a photograph with St. Michael's College President John J. Neuhauser. (Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban) Dr. Carolyn Woo, former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (right) poses for a photograph with St. Michael's College President John J. Neuhauser.
A former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, brought a message of hope to the Diocese of Burlington, telling more than 200 people at a conference on ecological justice that though “we are in the midst of a crisis,” it is important to focus on what can be done to take better care of the Earth.
 
“Our actions do matter, and there are things we can do to make a difference,” said Dr. Carolyn Woo, the keynote speaker at Action for Ecological Justice: Celebrating a Year of Creation, Sept. 30 at St. Michael’s College in Colchester. The Year of Creation is a yearlong, statewide, intentional focus on embracing the message of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”
 
“Hope is where you believe that action can make a difference,” Woo said.
 
The Catholic Church in Vermont presented the conference, the signature event of the Year of Creation called for by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
Among the responses to climate change, which disproportionately affects the world’s poor, Woo suggested responses such as land and crop adaptations, watershed management, alternative farming techniques, alternative crops, water service and community capacity building.
 
She also suggested socially responsible investing with companies that have good ratings for healthy living, clean water, renewable energy, zero waste and disease eradication. “You don’t have to sacrifice [financial] returns,” she added.
 
Woo said there is momentum in the area of clean energy, noting that 21 states score in the top 10 in at least three of the 12 Union of Concerned Scientists metrics that include energy savings, power plant pollution reduction, clean energy jobs and electric vehicle adoption.
 
Vermont is number two in that overall scoring, second only to California.
 
Woo encouraged the creation of “green jobs” in areas such as wind and solar power and sustainable issues, and she asked her listeners to encourage young people to pursue careers in this industry.
 
To reduce carbon emissions in the environment, she suggested the use of wind turbines, plant-rich diets, solar farms, natural family planning, reduced food waste and refrigerant management.
 
Care of the Earth, she emphasized, “transcends politics.”
 
"The state of creation affects everyone. We must work together to create a more sustainable future for all," said Stephanie Clary, manager of mission outreach and communication for the Diocese of Burlington and coordinator of the conference.

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne opened the conference with a moment of silence for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. 
 
The daylong conference included various workshops including one titled, “Engaging the Parish: How Do I Invite Others to Join Me,” facilitated by Chris West who directs the Partnership, Training and Engagement Unit of Catholic Relief Services and David Mullin, executive director of Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity in Northwestern Vermont.
 
They emphasized the importance of using inviting language when encouraging others to join in parish ministries, rather than telling people they “should” get involved.
 
Identify, invite, and encourage -- three steps West said bring more people into ministries.
 
Mullin said that if people are “interested in moving a cause forward, expose your passion for it” to attract others to it.
 
In his breakout session, “Can Economics Save the World?” St. Michael’s College Associate Professor of Economics Patrick Walsh asked participants, “Why are we hurting the environment?”
 
Answers included: to accommodate a growing population, because people are disconnected from nature, market forces, cultural and lifestyle expectations, ignorance and greed.
 
A way to explain people’s behavior is to know what incentives they face, he explained.
 
For example, shoppers might shy away from one item that is too expensive, considering “the price told me not to” buy it. But they might purchase a sale item because “the price made me do it.”
 
Incentives for reducing carbon emissions include carbon taxes and limited government permits for carbon emitters. “If it’s costly to ‘go green,’ it’s going to be an uphill struggle,” Walsh said.

Allison Croce, a sophomore at St. Michael's College from Abingdon, Md., said her Catholic faith and her passion for the environment were the reasons she attended the daylong conference. "We all share the Earth, so we should all conserve [resources] and promote justice for all," said the environmental studies major.
 
Musician and songwriter Bob Hurd concluded the day with a variety of songs related to justice, caring for the Earth, the sanctity of life and peace, some based on “Laudato Si’.”
 
He connected Jesus’ living, dying and rising to healing and the glorification of all creation. “Every celebration of the Eucharist acknowledges creation,” he said.
 
Carolyn Meub, executive director of the Rutland-based Pure Water for the World, said attending the conference “really motivated me to look at my own actions because I believe my actions are making a moral statement” – like composting and doing business with ethical companies.
 
Rose-Marie Santarcangelo of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington drove nearly the length of Vermont to attend the conference because of its subject matter. “More people need to be involved…to save this planet,” she said.
 
Lisa Gibbons, a member of St. Francis Xavier Church in Winooski, said the conference offered her a “great opportunity” to bring together two important parts of her life: her Catholic faith and care for the Earth.

"This Diocese is a light to help us understand what a Diocese can do in a holistic way to respond to climate change," Woo told Vermont Catholic. She praised the work being done in parishes and schools to educate, reduce, reuse and recycle and acknowledged the Diocese's efforts to collaborate with other faith groups and government organizations. "This is an inspiring example," she said.

Clary said the conference a success, commenting, "It's encouraging that so many people hold care for creation as an important part of their lives --whether Catholic or not. Hopefully today is just one of many collaborative efforts to work together in caring for our common home."
 
For more information about the Action for Ecological Justice conference, see the Year of Creation website.

 
Last modified onThursday, 09 November 2017 15:27
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