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Former head of CRS to speak at Vermont conference on "Laudato Si'"

A former head of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will be in Vermont in September to speak at the “Action for Ecological Justice: Celebrating a Year of Creation” conference at Saint Michael's College on September 30th. The conference will be the main event of the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, a yearlong, statewide, intentional focus on embracing the message of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”

Hosted by the Catholic Church in Vermont, sponsors for the event include Catholic Relief Services, Oregon Catholic Press, Saint Michael's College, Sisters of Mercy, Catholic Climate Covenant,  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Department of Peace, Justice and Human Development, Courtyard Burlington Harbor Hotel, Keurig Green Mountain Coffee, Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, and Green Mountain Monastery.

General registration is $35 per person and includes morning pastries, lunch and afternoon breakout sessions. Students can register for free.

To register or learn more, visit: vermontcatholic.org/actionforecojustice.
 
Dr. Carolyn Woo, who from 2012-2016 was president and CEO of CRS, the U.S. Catholic Church's official, international humanitarian and development aid agency, will present a personal look at the encyclical she helped Pope Francis present in Rome, at environmental degradation and its effect on the poor and at measures to minimize further environmental harm from carbon emissions and remediate damage already done.
 
With perspectives from scientists, politicians, activists, economists, professionals, academics and people of various faiths, the conference will offer the opportunity for dynamic conversations about the state of creation and how people can work together for a sustainable future.
 
CRS staff “works face to face every day with the effects of climate warming,” Woo said. These include working with farmers whose livelihood is negatively impacted by erratic rainfall, which causes problems like drought on one extreme and soil erosion from deluges of rain on the other.
 
Catholic Relief Services was founded in 1943 by the Catholic bishops of the United States to serve World War II survivors in Europe. Since then, it has expanded to reach more than 100 million people in over 100 countries on five continents.
 
Its mission is to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas, working in the spirit of Catholic social teaching to promote the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person. With that mission rooted in the Catholic faith, CRS operations serve people based solely on need, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity. In the United States, CRS engages Catholics to live their faith in solidarity with the poor and suffering people of the world.
 
The conference at St. Michael’s College will be open to people of all faiths.
 
For more information, call Stephanie Clary at 802-846-5822.

To learn more about the Year of Creation please visit: vermontcatholic.org/yearofcreation.
 

BioBlitz at Mercy Farm

The 39-acre Mercy Farm in Benson is home to at least 36 moth species, more than two dozen types of trees, a half dozen spore bearer varieties, two score of plants, 42 types of birds, a dozen insects and a dozen animals, eight types of aquatic life and three Sisters of Mercy.
 
It’s easy to count the sisters who live at the eco-spiritual center but difficult to count the other forms of life that call it home.
 
Thanks to a recent “BioBlitz,” the sisters have a better handle on just what is living with them on the religious congregation’s property.
 
The May BioBlitz was a 24-hour period of intense biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species on the farm.
 
According to Sister Betty Secord, program director, the survey was valuable in showing how full of life the land is and how connected each form of life is to others. “The desire came from our sense that we are connected. All of creation is interconnected,” she said.
 
According to the Mercy Farm website, “Spiritual practice invites us to contemplate and engage in the world in an intentional way that is dedicated to developing a more insightful, mature relationship with self and the world – a way that is profoundly meaningful and fulfilling.”
 
During this Year of Creation in Vermont called for by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, the BioBlitz drew attention to the need to care for all of God’s creation. “If we’re all part of creation, all part of God’s gift of love through nature, when one part of our body hurts, we all hurt,” said Sister Secord, director of the BioBlitz at Mercy Farm. “Everything is a manifestation of God’s love.”
 
But she lamented that much of society has become “consumers” rather than “citizens,” disconnected from creation. “We are raping the Earth for comfort and profit,” she said. “We are not living within our means. We are consuming too fast for the Earth to recoup. We are taking much more than we actually need. Consumerism is a major issue.”
 
So at Mercy Farm, visitors can connect with one another, with nature and with their deepest self. “It’s important that we have places like this in the world where people can get away from everyday life and get that sense of relationship,” Sister Secord said.
 
It’s also a place where, according to the BioBlitz, visitors just might see a clover looper moth, a quaking aspen, a prickly ash, an inky cap, a hairy vetch, an ox-eye daisy or a dog violet.
 
There will also be wild geraniums, robins, crows, June bugs, caterpillars, fox, red maples and crayfish.
 
Forty-two volunteers and 30 participants attended the BioBlitz, recording their findings in categories including trees, basic botany, spore bearers, animal signs, insects, moths, aquatic life and birds. A group of naturalists lead the effort.
 
No recommendations for improvements to the farm’s ecosystem were made. “They seemed to think we have a complete ecosystem here,” Sister Secord said of the experts.
 
She plans to share the information from the BioBlitz with visitors and said it will be important information for future planning for the property.
 
The BioBlitz also included a Master Gardener display, an astronomy talk, a lesson on growing mushrooms, a bat-banding demonstration and a scavenger hunt.
 

On the Path of Ecological Conversion

In the Year of Creation in the Diocese of Burlington, Lent is a time to fast for climate justice and perhaps even change personal habits to better care for the Earth.

“Over the past year, as I have learned more about the effects our dietary and behavioral choices have on the environment and those who call it home, I have gradually begun to incorporate more ecologically conscious practices into my life,” said Stephanie Clary, mission outreach and communication coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

The first step in this ongoing process was removing meat from many meals throughout the week. Next, she became more intentional about managing materials in her home through purchase and disposal choices like buying things in bulk and avoiding plastic when possible and separating food waste from trash for composting. “In this way, I participate in the ongoing fast for climate justice,” she said. 

However, during Lent she will fast specifically as part of the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice.

During each day of Lent, Catholics from all over the world will fast for climate justice, joining the interfaith Fast For The Climate and the Green Anglicans’ Carbon Fast. Global Catholic Climate Movement will highlight the impacts of climate change on various countries through social media and other communications. 

In addition to fasting from food, the organization suggests fasting from activities that produce carbon dioxide like reducing use of fossil fuels, electricity, plastic, paper and toxins. The fast encourages participants to “pray and fast for the renewal of our relationship with creation and with our brothers and sisters in poverty who are already suffering the impacts of climate change.”

“The Lenten Fast for Climate Justice is consistent with the existing meaning of a Lenten fast, and Catholic fasting in general,” Clary said. “Because of the way this particular fast is organized, there is also an emphasis on global solidarity. In addition to the personal experience of reflection and prayer that fasting facilitates, the global movement highlights the tangible effects of such practices as abstaining from meat and/or carbon in today’s world. As is consistent with most religious fasting, the ‘excess’ that is not consumed should encourage ‘almsgiving,’ charitable action toward serving the vulnerable.”

On March 3, Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was scheduled to lead the “The Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the Path to Ecological Conversion” at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington. Clary and Josh Perry, director of worship for the diocese, were to present about fasting for justice at a simple soup supper immediately following the Stations of the Cross. Seasonal soup was to be provided by New Moon Café in Burlington.

Throughout his pontificate, in his preaching and teaching, St. John Paul II emphasized the gravity of the environmental crisis and the urgent need for the Church to respond to its moral and spiritual dimensions. 

For him, “the penitential season of Lent offers a profound lesson to respect the environment.”

“Lent, with its three-fold practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is a time of heightened spiritual renewal which can reorient us in caring for our brothers and sisters, and in turn, caring for our common home,” said Perry.

Throughout the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, there will be a focus on prayer, education and action. “This event will encompass all three: prayer with the Stations of the Cross; education with the presentation about fasting for justice; and action with the sustainable meal shared and effective management of materials (compost, recycle, waste),” Clary said.

As this is the first event in the Year of Creation for the Diocese of Burlington, Perry hopes it is a doorway into other events in the Year of Creation: “As this soup supper and Stations of the Cross takes place at the beginning of Lent, I hope that it encourages a particular focus this Lenten season – to focus on prayer, our almsgiving and our fasting with integral ecology in mind.”

For more information on Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice, go to catholicclimatemovement.global/2017-upcoming-moments.

Restoring Right Relation

Often, Christians find Pope Francis’ promotion of integral ecology at odds with the biblical command to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures. Yet, a careful look at the Book of Genesis offers much to consider in regard to relationships among creation and how God intended creation to exist.

Ecologically-relevant verses are found throughout scripture, but as Pope Francis asserts in “Laudato Si’,” there is reason to start at the beginning: “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality.”

“Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth” (Gn 1:28). Upon an uncritical reading, this verse seems to support human control over non-human creation. But, when placed in context with other biblical narratives, the verse no longer reads as a God-given mandate for human superiority. A critical look at the words from which “subdue” and “dominion” are translated paired with awareness of how these words are used elsewhere in scripture yields a different interpretation.

Elsewhere in scripture, the word translated into English as “subdue” describes cultivation of land and preparation of space for worship. There is great significance in this interpretative shift from subdue as meaning to overpower and control to subdue as meaning to cultivate for sustainability and ease of worship. Knowing this broader biblical context allows for reconsideration of the way in which humanity is asked to interact with non-human creation. Instead of exercising superiority over the earth with exploitation and destruction, humanity is called to cultivate a sustainable living space that allows for worship of God.

The word translated as “dominion” can also support a holistic, interconnected and mutually-dependent relationship among creation when the command to “have dominion” is considered in conjunction with scripture stories that elaborate upon its meaning. For example, the story of the great flood shows humanity tasked with “dominion” of creation.

Humanity must ensure survival of all.

Considered within this context, “dominion” transforms from a word conveying a relationship of domination and control into a word conveying a relationship of care, concern and respect. The survival of non-human creation is prioritized not because of any value or benefit it holds for humanity but simply because all creation is of God and deserves to live. Furthermore, when considered within the context of the great flood story, God’s command to humans about the relationship between human and non-human creation does not present a passive relationship, where human and non-human creation merely coexist, or even a relationship in which humans consciously refrain from destroying or harming non-human creation. What God’s command calls for is conscious, compassionate action on the part of humanity to see to the survival, livelihood and flourishing of non-human creation. This is quite a big responsibility, of which the failure to fulfill has disastrous consequences.

Pope Francis reflects, “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole [is] disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God.” When humans act as if humanity is other than creation instead of an integral part of it, all of creation suffers, including humans. 

He continues, “Responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world. ... The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings.”

Creation was designed in a way that allows it to survive, to grow, to adapt, to flourish!

The human, in the image and likeness of God and as part of that design, is called to cultivate creation for life and worship (subdue) and ensure its ongoing survival (have dominion). While this relationship between human and non-human creation (and God) is often abused — even ruptured — reconciliation, a return to right relation, is always possible.

As demonstrated by the story of the great flood and exclaimed by Pope Francis, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”

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This article was originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.

Catholic Schools Care for Creation

In response to Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne's call for a Year of Creation focused on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home," Catholic schools in Vermont immediately sprang to action planning a statewide day of creation education, action and prayer. On April 12, each Catholic school participated in Catholic Schools Care for Creation Day. Initiatives included immediate tasks and long-term projects.
 
Responding to the call to care for creation is part of the Catholic schools’ mission “to instill faith values in students and to create a desire to make a positive difference in the world.” Some schools began the day of service with Mass or another form of prayer. Others read and reflected upon quotes from “Laudato Si’” throughout the day. It was important for students to understand that this day wasn’t just in service to the world, but to their neighbors and to God as well.
 
“Care for creation is a matter of social justice because the ones who are most affected by pollution and climate change are the poor of the world,” Bishop Coyne said. “I hope many Catholics will take advantage of the opportunities being offered throughout the diocese to celebrate this Year of Creation.”
 
Vermont Catholic schools emphatically embraced the opportunity to spend some extra time beholding God’s creation and ensuring that it remains bountiful for generations to come.
 
Read about each school’s Care for Creation Day projects below. For more about the Year of Creation: vermontcatholic.org/yearofcreation.
 
Students at St. Monica-St. Michael School in Barre learned about reusing and recycling materials with an eco-fashion show, where students designed and modeled clothing creations made from materials found in recycle bins. As part of an ongoing project, students planted seeds in recyclable containers that will later be transferred to the school garden. Once in the earth, the seedlings will grow into food that sustains bodies. Students and their families share in the cultivation, growth, harvest and consumption.
 
Students at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington used old newspapers to create biodegradable flower vases. The potted plants will be gifted to elderly individuals in the area and can be placed directly into the ground.
 
Everyone who attends St. Michael School in Brattleboro was encouraged to use sustainable transportation on April 12. Many walked, biked or carpooled to school. Members of the school community worked together on waste reduction strategies that could be implemented, with specific grades focusing on recycling and compost efficiency. Other grades focused on area beautification with litter pick-up and gardening. Others created an awareness and education bulletin board for visitors and as a reminder for everyone at the school.
 
Each classroom at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville has prominent recycle and compost bins with a smaller trash bin alongside them. The school no longer provides single-use plastic straws or water bottles. There are water-bottle filling stations for reusable water bottles. Lunch trays are biodegradable. All of this is part of the school’s ongoing sustainability efforts.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Rutland led a prayer service designed to help people understand how they can contribute to ecological justice. Throughout the year, students will work with Marble Valley Grows to plant a garden and participate in tastings to promote the Farm to School programs. They will also learn about and begin a composting program for the lunch room.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Burlington and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland spent their mornings cleaning up local parks and beautifying creation for area residents to enjoy.
 
Good Shepherd Catholic School in St. Johnsbury recently received a grant that allows them to begin construction on an outdoor nature classroom. After “greening up” the local area on April 12, students and staff gathered in the gym to plant seeds. Later in the spring, flower seedlings will be donated to the local eldercare home and vegetable seedlings to the community garden. Some of each will be reserved to plant in the outdoor nature classroom upon its completion.
 
Students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington helped to return the local ecosystem to balance by removing invasive species from a trail on school grounds and cultivating the land for new growth. Money collected from a dress-down day on the April 12 was donated to Pure Water for the World, a Rutland-based non-profit dedicated to sustainable, safe water solutions.
 
At St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski, students learned about the impact of separating food waste and began implementing a compost program in their cafeteria and classrooms.
 
  • Published in Schools

Solar projects update

Last year St. Peter Church in Rutland was the first parish in the Diocese of Burlington to install solar panels to generate electricity. Then came St. Peter Church in Vergennes, where the solar panel system went online Jan. 10.
 
“Caring for the land and our atmosphere were vital to the health of our animals and in turn to us as a family,” said Father Yvon Royer, pastor o the Vergennes church, who grew up on a farm in Newport Center. “Anything that we can do to either not pollute the land, water or air goes a long way in maintaining the health of what God has given to us.”
 
The parish had been getting four Green Mountain Power Corp. electric bills: one each for the church, rectory, parish center and thrift shop. The annual total electric bill was about $5,300.
 
Utilizing the sun to help create the electricity used at St. Peter’s will help reduce those costs. “By the spring our solar panels will be creating enough electricity to take care of all of our electric needs here at St. Peter’s,” Father Royer said.
 
The solar project at St. Peter’s in Rutland was part of ongoing parish efforts – that included weatherization of the rectory and installation of energy-saving LED light bulbs -- to conserve both energy and funds and is “in line” with Pope Francis’ call to care for “our common home,” the Earth, said Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Father Thomas Houle, pastor.
           
The panels produce electricity for the friary, saving about $220 to $260 a month, depending on the time of year.
 
But not only do the solar panels bring a financial benefit, they provide clean energy. “We are protecting the Earth around us,” Father Houle said.
 
He will continue to advocate for reducing carbon footprints by following in the footsteps of the founder of his Franciscan community, St. Francis of Assisi, “who saw all of creation as a gift from God and became the patron saint of ecology as he attempted to show us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.”
           
Father Houle is also pastor of St. Alphonsus Ligouri Church in Pittsford where solar panels to provide electricity for the church, rectory and parish hall are to be installed as soon as weather permits, he said. “There should be considerable savings,” he said.
 
Father Houle encourages other parishes to investigate the possibility of using solar energy, especially when grants are available.
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This article was originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
 

Reduce, reuse, recycle, compost

Nineteen kindergarten and first-grade students from St. Michael’s School in Brattleboro donned green construction hats as they learned a lesson in the three R’s – not reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic – but reducing, reusing and recycling.
 
During an April 12 visit to the Windham Solid Waste Management District in Brattleboro they saw how recycled materials are sorted and bundled for sale and how compost is made.
 
It was part of the school’s observance of the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, and the children understood the importance of caring for what Pope Francis calls “our common home,” the Earth.
 
“Not reducing, reusing and recycling is bad for the Earth,” said Jackson Ferreira, 7, a first grader.
 
“The Earth is our home, and we should respect it because God gave it to us,” added classmate Kalyn Curtiss, 7.
 
Before taking a tour of the facility, the children and their chaperones listened to a presentation by Kristen Benoit, program coordinator for the management district. “Everyone makes trash, but we can make the trash smaller by making smarter decisions,” she said.
 
Reducing consumption, reusing items, recycling recyclables and composting food waste and other compostables are all smarter decisions.
 
Benoit said every Vermonter produces about four and a half pounds of trash a day; that equals 1,640 soccer balls per year per person. “Our job here is to help make it less,” she commented.
 
Seventy-five percent of all trash is recyclable; recycling 2,000 pounds of paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water and 380 barrels of oil, she noted.
 
Paper, for example, can be recycled to make tissue paper, bathroom tissue and egg cartons. Soda cans can be recycled to make more soda cans, and milk jugs can be turned into carpet backing.
 
As for compost, Benoit said 30 percent of household trash is generally food and yard waste – items that could be composted “to make really good dirt for your plants.”
 
Putting food into landfills is not only unnecessary, it creates harmful methane gas.
 
Liz Martin, the kindergarten and first-grade teacher at St. Michael’s School, said during Lent the children made a special “sacrifice” to take better care of the Earth God has given them. “We’re going to try to do that for the entire year, not just Lent,” she added.
 
  • Published in Schools

Eco-friendly Easter

The co-opting of holy days into secular holidays often results in an emphasis on consumerism, which is contrary to the teachings of the Christian faith and has negative effects on the environment and those who call it home. Keep your Easter celebration a little more holistic this year with these simple suggestions.
 
Dyeing Easter Eggs
  •  Buy eggs from a local farm with pasture-raised chickens.
  •  Look for biodegradable cardboard cartons instead of plastic or Styrofoam.
  •  Instead of using chemical dyes, create natural dyes from vegetables and spices.
  •  Don’t waste food! Use dyed eggs in recipes once you’re finished enjoying them as décor.
 
Easter Egg Baskets
  •  Reuse plastic eggs and grass if you already own them. Most facilities can’t recycle these items.
  •  If purchasing new items, seek biodegradable options, like ecoeggs™ and ecograss™, which are made in the United States from plants. They look like plastic and are reusable.
  •  Use existing baskets, buckets or jars. If buying new, consider local artisans.
  •  Avoid useless trinkets and fill eggs with Fairtrade chocolates (support sustainable living), jellybeans and nuts (they don’t require individual wrappers), seeds to plant a garden, coins, and inspirational messages.
 
Easter Meal
  •  Shop for local ingredients, which require less packaging and shipping.
  •  Use up dyed Easter eggs with a new recipe.
  •  Try to prepare the meal with zero-waste.
  •  Avoid single-use dishes and utensils.
  •  Separate food scraps for composting.
  •  Donate excess food or extra money not used on excess food to charity.

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Originally published in the 2017 Spring Issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
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