by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — When Linda Johnson of First Presbyterian Church in Leavenworth started meeting monthly with five other women here in May 2017 to study Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, she had a head start on the homework.
Her father is a farmer.
“He believed very much that we were stewards of the earth and [that] God called him to leave the earth in better condition than he found it,” she said. “That was always at his core.”
So Johnson has come by her interest in the environment honestly — and through the encyclical, “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.”
“Though my faith journey has been key for me,” she said, “my environmentalism and my belief that the earth is God tangibly with us has also been a big driving force.”
Martha Allen, a Sacred Heart-St. Casimir parishioner and member of the ecumenical study group, said it’s about thinking of the long term.
“[Pope Francis] advises us to think globally. . . . How will what we do affect not only future generations, but future generations worldwide?” she said.
“He’s saying that what we’re doing with the earth right now is not sustainable,” she continued. “We can’t keep doing it. There’s a finite amount of resources in the earth and to wear blinders to that is a dangerous step to take.”
Cry of the poor
Pope Francis also wrote that how we care for the earth is intertwined with our Christian duty to take care of the poor, Allen said.
“He comments that today’s methods of production and consuming things have turned the earth upside down,” Allen said. “Very rich nations consume an inordinate amount of the earth’s resources, which ultimately causes harm to the poor around the world.
“Examples that he gave were mining for gold and mining for other elements and minerals and disastrously depleting the resources and then leaving.
“So, we’ve left [the poor] now with no employment and a ravaged land.”
One and the same
“As disciples of Christ, we are called to hear both the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth and to know that they are one and the same,” said a third participant, Margaret Del Debbio. “I thought that was a pivotal truth.”
Elsa Robinson, also of Sacred Heart-St. Casimir, agreed, and said that she found the encyclical echoed the pope’s message as it was represented in the movie “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.”
“[Pope Francis] said one of the things we’re doing now is living in closed, gated communities,” Robinson said.
“He says when you do that,” she continued, “you close yourself off from the people that need you the most and then you’re not even aware of what’s needed out there.”
How can we serve?
This left the study group with a powerful question: What is needed out there?
“We are called to action,” said Del Debbio. “We are called to be a creative, healing power as Jesus was a creative healing power.”
Therefore, the women knew that studying the encyclical was not enough.
“Just like Jesus, you step into the conflict that’s there. You do not shy away from it,” said Del Debbio.
Discussions led them to the idea of opening a grocery store in northeast Leavenworth, which Allen described as “a food desert.”
“The environment of northeast Leavenworth,” she said, “is comparable to infertile soil in an agricultural area that does not produce good crops.
“[It] offers few nourishing food options for its residents. We want to change that landscape to include more healthy food sources.”
“Food is a basic right,” she continued. “You cannot expect wonderful things to happen on the face of the earth if people are starving.”
After several months of attempts and failures, in partnership with the local Interfaith Community of Hope and Nourish KC, the group is in the planning stages of opening two pop-up grocery stores in northeast Leavenworth.
Both will consist of refrigeration and hardware placed in an established building that can be closed off when not in use.
While there are many things that still need to happen to bring their plans to fruition, with the support they’ve already been given, the study group is hopeful.
“The city of Leavenworth has been marvelous,” Allen said. “It’s amazing the support that everybody has given and everybody’s rooting for us.”
For for more information about the project, call Allen at (913) 775-8008.