St. Elizabeth Seton Parish’s first creation care art contest helped the parish Creation Care Ministry get its message out in multiple ways, organizers said, from having the artists who participated learn about Catholic teaching on stewardship of creation to having parishioners learn about it from the works submitted. The more than 40 entries were to be displayed in the church narthex in celebration of Earth Day on the weekends of April 22-23 and April 29-30, said Andy Panelli, who has been leading the Creation Care ministry for about five years. Panelli said he got the idea for an art contest from his network of Catholic creation care ministers around the country. St. Joseph Parish in Norman, Oklahoma, which did a similar contest during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The real benefit of this art contest from my perspective is that this gave us the opportunity to talk about creation care for a long time,” Panelli said, starting with the announcement of the contest a few months before the judging. “We’ve been on a five-year mission to raise the level of awareness within our parish and community in terms of the importance of it, and the awareness of creation care as part of the Catholic faith.” The contest had two divisions — traditional and digital art — and three age groups. Father Bill Corcoran, St. Elizabeth Seton’s pastor, said he was all for it, and he put up prize money: $150 each for six first prizes and $50 each for six second prizes. “It’s spreading the word in a new way, in a way people wouldn’t think of,” Corcoran said. “The church has always supported art and artists. … Instead of getting into some debate over carbon emissions, this brings the message home in another way, in a friendly way.” St. Elizabeth Seton has been very involved in promoting the care of creation especially since the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” in 2015. Since then, the parish encouraged its members to advocate for climate action at the state and federal levels, and, on a local level, increased its commitment to recycling and planted more trees on its campus. “It’s one of the things I am as pastor extremely proud of. I think people are slowly incorporating good behavior, stewardship behavior, in their lives,” Corcoran said. The parish promoted the contest through bulletin announcements and spread the word to local Catholic and public schools, Panelli said, and received submissions from a wide range of age groups. “There were some themes that surfaced,” he said. “Protecting endangered animals. Quite a bit of art that focused on trash, especially in the seas and in water, and trying to protect the coral reefs. There were themes around the beauty of nature, kind of emphasizing the wonder for natural beauty from a creation care standpoint.” Submissions were judged by a panel of artists and art teachers whom members of the creation care ministry reached through their connections with similar ministries in parishes around the archdiocese. Edvin Mertdogan, an architect, won first place in the adult digital category for his photo collage depicting various natural scenes. “There’s beauty and fragility out there, and there’s also danger,” said Mertdogan, in response to a question about what he wanted his work to convey. “And even though there’s rough roads ahead, there is the calm, comforting serenity in the arms of nature.” Isabella Tellez, an 18-year-old senior at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, made a sculpture of a sea turtle surrounded by trash in the ocean. It was inspired by a video she saw of a sea turtle having a plastic straw pulled out of its nose. “I hope people realize how much the amount of trash in the ocean affects sea life,” Tellez said. “I highlighted turtles, but it affects all sea life.” Tellez said her art teacher shared information about the contest with her studio art class, and she took it as an opportunity to work on a three-dimensional sculpture project. Her sculpture won second place in the adult traditional category. Simone Hilbert, 11, also did a sculpture, making a papier-mâché representation of the Earth, with a plastic human figure under a tree inside. Simone, a fifth grader at Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School in Orland Hills, heard about the contest from her art teacher and won first place in the youth traditional art category. “I wanted to do something 3D and I like incorporating a lot of materials, and I thought about making a papier-mâché Earth,” she said. The message is, “In the world, anybody can make a difference. It made me reflect on how I can make a difference.” Her mother, Mary Beth Hilbert, said Simone came up with the idea and executed it on her own, researching how to make the papier-mâché and how to dye it. Hilbert said the family joined St. Elizabeth Seton Parish when they moved into the neighborhood a few years ago, and on one of their first Sundays, the Mass included a presentation about the Creation Care Ministry. “That actually stood out to me, that that was one of the first messages that we received from the parish,” Hilbert said.