by Jill Ragar Esfeld
This Earth Day, April 22, marks the 50th anniversary of the environmental movement.
For Catholics, caring for the environment is not just an Earth Day activity, but a fundamental tenet of our faith. We are stewards of creation.
Saint Francis of Assisi has long been associated with that tenet and his statue can often be found watching over our gardens.
In 1979, Saint Pope John Paul II declared Saint Francis the patron saint of ecologists.
Pope Francis took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi, whom he called “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”
Indeed, Franciscans, members of the religious order founded by St. Francis in 1209, consider nature “the mirror of God,” because every living thing provides us with an opportunity to encounter God’s love and beauty.
In addition to Earth Day, this spring also marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on ecology, “Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home.”
In this letter the Holy Father states: “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”
This year’s Earth Day theme is “climate action.” Though many celebrations were planned for this 50th anniversary, social distancing restrictions and “stay at home” orders have forced organizers around the world to move things online.
Here are 10 ways you can live your faith promise to be a steward of God’s creation by participating in Earth Day activities, even though you’re sheltering in place:
- Join the Laudato Si’ Pledge Campaign of The Global Catholic Climate Movement, a coalition of more than 400 Catholic organizations founded to help turn Laudato Si’ into action for climate justice: Global Catholic Climate Movement.
- Participate in a free one-hour Earth Day program, including prayers, readings and reflections inspired by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2001 statement on climate change: Catholic Climate Covenant’s 2020 Earth Day Program.
- Commit a year to change and action to commemorate the five-year anniversary of Laudato Si by participating in the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas year-long initiative to care for creation: Mercy Earth Challenge.
- Participate in Earth Day Live, a three-day live stream featuring activists, musicians and celebrities airing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on April 22, 23, 24 at Earth Day Live.
- Say a rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet for those at risk from exposure to environmental hazards. Pray for social justice for those who are poor and who suffer disproportionately from environmental destruction.
- Join in God’s creation by planting a garden. Help a child learn the joy of planting a seed and watching it grow. Consider planting a vegetable garden and sharing your harvest with friends, neighbors and those less fortunate.
- Learn about the life of St. Francis of Assisi, make a novena for the environment by memorizing and praying for nine days the Prayer of St. Francis (also known as the Peace Prayer of St. Francis): Peace Prayer of St. Francis.
- Read Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s encyclical on how we need to care for our common home which clearly links environmental justice to our Catholic faith. Consider reading and meditating on parts of the encyclical daily: Laudato Si’.
- Connect with God’s creation by taking a walk through a local park and spending time meditating on the simple beauty of the nature around you. Reflect on Job 12:7-10:
But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.
- Consider making a donation to a charity that supports environmental causes, advocates for the protection of all God’s creation or promotes education about environmental issues.
As we turn our energies toward stewardship of the earth this spring, keep in mind the words of St. Francis: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”