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Action for Ecological Justice conference

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.

 

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.

Stations 'On the Path of Ecological Conversion'

Eric and Vela Bouchard of Island Pond, members of Mater Dei Parish in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, are both park rangers at Brighton State Park, so when they read in their church bulletin that there was going to be “Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the Path of Ecological Conversion,” they made plans to drive the 106 miles to Burlington to attend.
 
“We came because of the environmental aspect of it,” Mr. Bouchard said. “Care of the Earth is a passion [of ours].”
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne led the Stations of the Cross at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; about 50 people attended.
 
After the Stations, there was a sustainable soup supper and discussion of the Lenten practice of fasting and information on the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice.

Seasonal soup was donated by New Moon Cafe in Burlington and sustainably sourced bread was donated by O Bread Bakery in Shelburne.
 
The Stations and the program after were part of the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation.
 
The special Stations reflect St. John Paul II’s emphasis on 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 offered “a profound lesson to respect the environment.”
 
At each of the 14 Stations, a scripture verse was read followed by a reflection from Pope John Paul II read by Bishop Coyne such as:
 
“One of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world consists precisely in this:that the ones who posses much are relatively few and those who possess almost nothing are many.  It is the injustice of the poor distribution of the goods and services originally intended for all.”
 
And
 
“There is a growing threat to the environment, to the vegetation, animals, water and air.”
 
The congregation recited a prayer after each reflection, focusing on a pertinent area of ecological justice like energy consumption, global responsibilities, injustice and violence, consumerism, environmental destruction and misguided models of progress.
 
More about “The Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the Path of Ecological Conversion” can be found at Year of Creation: Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.
 
“It’s time we have these awakenings” about the Christian call to care for the Earth, Mrs. Bouchard said.
 
In his presentation on fasting after the Stations, Joshua Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington, explained different practices of fasting throughout history and said “fasting is related to the call to ecological conversion.”
 
The Church’s practice of fasting has varied according to time and location, but it is not just for Lent, he continued: “Fasting is an important spiritual discipline we can practice to deepen our relationship with God.”
 
Perry explained that fasting is a reminder that people are dependent on God, it allows them to focus on their spiritual selves, it helps them “clear out the clutter” in their lives to better see the presence of God and helps them see the plight of others. Fasting also allows persons to give alms – to use savings from food to do charitable works and stand in solidarity with others.
 
Judy Contompasis of Burlington, who attends The Catholic Center at the University of Vermont, saw the Stations of the Cross promoted on Facebook. "I've always seen part of my faith as taking care of God's creation," she said. "It's beautiful to see an event that connects care for the environment and faith because they are not separate and should not be separated."

Also during the meal, Stephanie Clary, mission outreach and communication coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington, outlined the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice in which participants fast and pray for bold action to solve the climate change crisis.
 
Fasting from certain foods, especially meat, she explained, positively affects the planet and the poor. Fifteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by meat consumption, Clary noted, and producing one pound of meat requires about 1,800 gallons of fresh water.
 
“We have to care for…the Earth God has created,” she encouraged.
 
For more information, visit mercy2earth.org/lent.
 
 
 
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