Local leaders helped plan global Laudato Si’ platform

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Leaders from the Archdiocese of Chicago and area institutions have been instrumental in planning for the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a seven-year global effort to implement and expand the reach of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago is one of nine dioceses worldwide that has worked to develop the platform for parishes and dioceses, according to Michael Terrien, a Benedictine oblate who coordinates the archdiocese’s Care for Creation Ministry and has been part of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development Laudato Si’ Action Platform Parish and Diocese working group.

The effort aims to stop and even reverse climate change and heal the earth, but it goes much further than that, Terrien said.

“People have erroneously called ‘Laudato Si’ an environmental encyclical and it’s not,” Terrien said. “It’s an environmental and social encyclical. It’s the promulgation of Catholic social teaching. It’s hearing the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and connecting those two.”

Some parts of the church and some parts of the world received the encyclical and did more with it than other areas, he said. The Laudato Si’ Action Plan aims to get people and institutions all over the world on board by not only offering action plans, but also connecting them to one another and asking them to commit to the work.

“The Vatican determined we need a way to actualize the teachings that are in there in a really concrete way,” Terrien said.

As part of the preparation for the Nov. 14 launch of the action plan, leaders in the Archdiocese of Chicago hosted two focus groups, one in the African American community and one in the Hispanic community.

Both groups emphasized the need for connection between individuals and groups of people and development of genuine community, Terrien said.

That reflects the interconnectedness that “Laudato Si’” highlights.

“Everything is connected,” he said. “You can’t separate anything out. Each of these is an important piece to the whole, and everything affects everything else.”

Parishes, dioceses, schools and universities, religious communities and even families and individuals could begin enrolling when the effort was launched.

Those who enroll are pledging to reflect on and evaluate what they are doing to meet the seven Laudato Si’ goals, which include responding to the cry of the earth and to the cry of the poor, ecological education and ecological spirituality, ecological economics, adoption of sustainable lifestyles and community resilience and empowerment.

Leaders from the nine dioceses in the working group — the Archdiocese of Atlanta is the other one in the United States — now are working to get other dioceses enrolled while they are reaching out to their own parishes, Terrien said, noting that the Archdiocese of Chicago is inviting parishes to vicariate-level meetings to learn about the action plan.

Parishes, dioceses and other institutions have until April 2022 to enroll.

Meanwhile, Loyola University Chicago has also assumed a leadership role, said Michael Schuck, a professor in the theology department and within the Loyola’s School of Environmental Sustainability.

Loyola was already doing a lot of work in the area of sustainability and networking with Jesuit universities when he was asked to participate in the dicastery’s working group for universities. The group has not only been building the framework, but also networking with colleges and universities around the world.

“On Nov. 14, our committee had secured the commitment of 100 universities in 28 countries,” Schuck said, adding that DePaul University was the first in Chicago to commit. Now Loyola, Saint Xavier and Dominican University in River Forest have also committed to the plan.

An important feature, for all sectors, is suggested plans and action steps that work for individuals and institutions with different levels of resources and experience in sustainability efforts.

Loyola, for example, has already worked to divest itself from investments in corporations that derive most of their profits from fossil fuels, and it started the School of Environmental Sustainability, which will coordinate its efforts during the seven-year commitment to the plan.

“We want to now, as the weeks roll on, get small groups of universities communicating and collaborating together,” Schuck said. “Get a U.S. university communicating with a university in the Philippines or India as they work through these plans. The universities are institutions that can demonstrate the importance of divestment from fossil fuels, the importance of changing over to renewable energy sources, the importance of recycling and composting — many of the things people are aware of as creation care activities. Universities can become labs for students, universities can become a lab space for creation care.”

They can also serve as resources for parishes, schools, hospitals and other institutions, he said.

The Congregation of St. Joseph has also committed itself to the action plan, said Sister Kathleen Sherman, one of the coordinators of the community’s efforts. The congregation, whose U.S. motherhouse is located in La Grange Park, has long focused on care of creation.

“We’ve probably been involved in this work for 30 years,” Sister Kathleen said. “As we have journeyed, this it has become much more mainstream.”

The global reach of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform is necessary to make significant change, she said.

“We need to go beyond ourselves and network and connect with people,” she said.

The accountability built into the platform is also key.

“That will call people to keep their word and do what they said they are going to do,” Sister Kathy said. “It’s not just about the goals. It’s about the journey of transformation, a heart transformation. Unless we can understand the interconnectedness and relationship of all creation with the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, this other stuff isn’t going to happen anyway.”

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