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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.

 

Standing up to 'weisure'

By Carolyn Woo
 
An essay in The New Yorker on workload referenced renowned economist John Maynard Keynes, who, in the 1930s, projected the forthcoming of a three-hour workday due to the rise in living standards and incomes. In 1964, observing unprecedented conveniences in the office, home and on the road, Life magazine presented two reflections titled "Emptiness of Too Much Leisure" and "How to Take Life Easy."
 
Well, the projections got the higher incomes and conveniences right. In fact, they probably undershot the degree of automation as I peruse evaluations of robotic floor cleaners.
 
But something must have gone awry as people in full-time jobs are not working less or enjoying more leisure. Project: Time-Off reports that Americans left 662 million vacation days unused in 2016. Essentially, workers gave up "income" that has been earned.
 
The Internet with its massive connectivity has irreversibly changed the way we work. Benefits attributed to these advances include increased productivity, speed of response, flexibility in when and where we work and the ability to be in many different places at the same time.
 
Yet, whatever freedom and control we are supposed to gain, working less is not part of the parcel. Salon cited findings from different studies noting in one that 65 percent of respondents felt they had to be accessible outside of work; several other reports suggest that smartphones and tablets could add two to five hours of work a day for professionals.
 
One could surmise from the prevalence of sleep disorders that the quality of our rest when we do get it has also been compromised. Forbes reported that less than 50 percent of respondents regularly get a solid night's sleep, and 40 million prescriptions for sleep aid were issued in 2011 to address this problem.
 
The blending of work and personal times is the mode for how we conduct our activities now. Attention to work and personal business is fluid, demarcated by no real boundaries.
 
We check Amazon deals, latest Facebook postings, news alerts and personal messages while at work; the reverse finds us attending to office e-mails, sales results, requests for meetings interspersed with dinner preparation, bath times, morning routines, etc.
 
"Me-time" or the time to slow down and be present to oneself comes in short episodes, punctuated not only by work but also by the worries, conflicts and anxiety that work can trigger. Not only is "me-time" rendered obsolete, "me-space" is similarly colonized with work devices following us in the car, in the mall, in the gym, at kids' sports practice, everywhere in the home, with some people taking their devices to work in bed and others to bathrooms.
 
This blurring of work and leisure is so prevalent that it is given its own term "weisure" by sociologist Dalton Conley. As "weisure" finds its place in our lexicon, what about the words "linger," "savor," "cherish"? When will Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto have its own 39 minutes of playing time and not just as background for work?
 
In the Third Commandment to keep holy the Sabbath, God mandated a day of rest. Its purpose is not just the cessation of labor but an invitation to imbibe the beauty of God's creation, to mark our freedom from slavery, to be held in God's goodness and unconditional love and to cultivate mindfulness for His presence in our daily existence with its share of joy and toil.
 
Has the speed of the Internet become the modern-day Pharaoh who determines how much and how fast we work? Would today's golden calf the Israelites equated with God look like our mobile devices?
 
How much of "me" does one want to surrender? How worthy is the recipient?

Woo is distinguished president's fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016. She will be in Vermont to speak at the “Action for Ecological Justice: Celebrating a Year of Creation” conference at St. Michael's College on Sept. 30.
 
  • Published in Nation

Going beyond administration

While preparing for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, I paused on a statement describing a design principle for the event. In calling for missionary discipleship, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the participant guidebook cites Pope Francis' caution that "'mere administration' can no longer be enough."
 
As I had held administrative posts for almost a quarter of a century with 20 years in Catholic ministries, I took this as one of those learning moments to stop and think.
Simplified, administration is the coordination of people and their efforts to fulfill the purpose of an entity through the management of roles, activities, resources and processes. The goal of administration is to enable ministry while the purpose for any faith-based ministry is to help people know, love and serve God.
 
I would be the last person to cast administration as the polar opposite of ministry. The word "administration" embeds the concept of ministration. Few ministries can flourish without able administration.
 
Think about the cases where necessary services and outreach are held back by inefficient or incoherent processes, poorly trained or guided personnel, as well as insufficient or suboptimal use of resources. The Acts of the Apostles makes clear that the good works of charity and care for community require dedicated and organized administration.
 
While both are necessary, administration and ministry can pull in different directions that call for different actions and behaviors. Minimally, pressures for attending to tasks, deadlines, crises of one sort or another can hijack the time, energies, sensitivities and patience needed to attend to the feelings, needs and personal circumstances of the people involved.  
 
I learned this during my last month at Catholic Relief Services when I opened my calendar to anyone who wanted to have lunch. These conversations, unlike routine meetings, were not tethered to the usual organizational menus of problem-solving or brainstorming.
 
People shared stories of their backgrounds, why they chose to go into international development, their personal triumphs and losses, what was difficult about change for them, how they have grown, their hopes for CRS and how we could make more room for the ideas of our young people. My colleagues asked about me: What was difficult for me, what did I see in the organization, what did I hope for, what did I think we achieved together and what advice would I like them to hold in their hearts?
 
These conversations reveal the essence of people: who they are in the ways that matter to them; their joys and sometimes their struggles; what gives them meaning and joy; how they want to contribute and what holds them back. People were seeking to be known, not in resume entries that denote qualifications, but in human terms that foster understanding -- the first building blocks for engagement, acceptance and friendship.
 
The right brain kicks in to seek expressions toward bonded-ness and relationships without which we would not be fully human nor could we have the hunger for God and his people implicit to ministry.
 
A professional hazard to administrative roles is that these are based on power entangled with evaluative thinking that does not shut itself off. These inhibit conversations. Not only will people refrain from telling you their concerns; they also hold back on positive feedback and empathy for those in authority for fear that these may be misconstrued.
 
It is hard to imagine how one would find the extra time and the appropriate space that allows for both emotional bonding and professional objectivity. I would venture to say that had I appreciated the significance of these needs, I would have worked hard to make time and find ways to accommodate these.
 
It has to be done when we recognize that this is not really a choice: that our colleagues deserve nothing less, that empathy would wither or become brittle in their absence and that we are not really supporting God's ministry without channeling His eyes, ears and heart for the other.
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Woo is distinguished president's fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.
 
  • Published in Nation
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