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Church, youth could collaborate on issue of the environment

Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, discusses Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” May 29 at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. LEAVEN PHOTO BY OLIVIA MARTIN

by Olivia Martin

OVERLAND PARK — Of all the nations in the world, only one has achieved carbon neutrality.

Which one?

“Vatican City State,” said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas.

On May 29, over 40 people gathered at Church of the Ascension for what Msgr. Swetland called “a public act of theology” on Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’.” The event was sponsored by Ascension’s Common Home ministry. Chad Scholes, professor of biology at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, gave a presentation as well.

“At the center of who we are is our love affair with God,” said Msgr. Swetland. “It’s in that context that we are going to . . . understand the theological truths of [‘Laudato Si’].”

Published in 2015, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” is Pope Francis’ first encyclical.

“It’s a teaching document,” explained Msgr. Swetland, “one of the most authoritative ways the pope teaches.”

This means all Catholics are normally obliged to give assent to its teaching in areas of faith and morals. And its teachings are relevant for all people.

“Laudato Si’” focuses on ways mankind has failed in the past to care for creation; theological and scientific teaching in support of caring for the environment; and proper morality toward creation.

Though it may seem the church’s attention to the environment just began within the last century, Msgr. Swetland said that it’s been around a lot longer.

“Care of creation has been there since the beginning,” he said. “Because salvation is about the restoration of all things in Christ.” 

That includes restoration of the environment. This is additionally important because it has direct effects on the most vulnerable.

“The first to be affected by environmental degradation is the poor,” he said. 

Opportunity for evangelization

Science in recent centuries has reinforced the church’s theology.

Msgr. Swetland presented decades’ worth of information on increasing global temperatures. He pointed out that the harsh weather Kansans have experienced this year is a direct result.

“Over the winter, when there was no sunlight in the north — it was their dark season — the North Pole one day almost got above freezing,” he said. “The reason we were so cold this March is the warming of the north pushed the polar vortex into the . . . Midwest and we suffered through that.

“The warming is quite obvious.”

To those who disbelieve changing global temperatures, Msgr. Swetland affirmed that Pope Francis’ recommendations in “Laudato Si’” to conserve and be good stewards of creation are still the most reasonable courses of action.

“[E]ven if we got it all wrong and we don’t have climate change going on,” he said, “all the moral teaching here is the prudent thing to do. It just makes sense.”

Those main moral teachings include receptivity and gratitude for everything in existence.

“Every part of God’s creation is meant to build up his kingdom,” said Msgr. Swetland. “You will be judged on everything you own — how did you use it to build the kingdom?

“Environmental justice is a concern for every person because it is a part of the human vocation to participate responsibly in God’s ongoing creative action.”

It’s a role Ascension parishioner Ellen Johnson takes seriously.

“I have four grandchildren and I’m worried about what the world will look like when they are my age,” she said. “What are they going to have?”

Scholes agreed.

“This is something I feel very strongly about,” he said. “The idea of passing on a horribly warm planet to [my kids] is not a comfortable thought.”

Msgr. Swetland noted that the church’s participation in environmental care is an opportunity to reach youth — especially those with little to no religious interest.

“It has really caught on with young people,” he said. “If we want to lead young people, . . . we can do that within the environmental movement.”

“Laudato Si’” can be accessed for free by going online to:, and pulling down to “English” on the top right. Then type “Laudato Si” into the search bar.

About the author

Olivia Martin

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1 Comment

  • Thanks to the Leaven, and especially Olivia Martin, for covering this event! We hope you will continue to shed light on the incredibly important issue of Creation care – one that all Catholics – and all PEOPLE – should care deeply about.