WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment set the path five years ago and now a new effort by the Catholic Climate Covenant seeks to shape an intergenerational movement to respond through action and prayer to the challenges posed by climate change.
Called the Catholic Climate Project, the effort is set to build on what parishioners and organizations already are doing while inviting more people to deepen the Catholic commitment to protect creation.
“We’re activating across the entire Catholic community, not just those who are already acting,” Jose Aguto, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, told Catholic News Service Feb. 18.
Aguto is coordinating the effort, which launched in mid-February, with a team of 13 people from ministries throughout the Catholic community including religious orders, dioceses and advocacy organizations.
As the project begins, Aguto noted that it stems from papal teaching on environmental concerns, extending from St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
“It’s very distinctly in the center of the Catholic faith, based on bridge-building, on dialogue, on love of neighbor, love of enemy, love of creation,” Aguto said. “It’s centered in prayer, centered in our faith. It’s that core which holds us together.”
The project is poised to utilize the energy of young Catholics, many of whom are deeply concerned about the threats that climate change poses to the planet and, by extension, to human dignity.
Those concerns were widely noted during the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, and later acknowledged by Pope Francis in his postsynod apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit (“Christ Lives”).
When added to the pope’s message in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, and the commemorations of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, the project team is expecting Catholic action on the environment to gain momentum.
“Young people around the world today are being impacted by environmental issues in ways much more different than it was for previous generations. If we want to be a church in support of our youth and young adults, we must be part of these conversations about matters that are significantly affecting them,” Paul Jarzembowski, a team member who is assistant director for youth and young adult ministries at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Youth and young adults get it. They understand the integration of the natural world and their own lived experiences. And they are being affected by ecological tragedies,” he said, pointing to mass migration around the world, some of which is being fueled by climate change.
Aguto suggested that the church can bring its “pastoral strength” to address the angst that young people have about the degrading environment as well as the political polarization surrounding climate change.
“We can go forth as lights, to be joyful in the midst of suffering so that we can inspire and strengthen, all of us together, in addressing what many consider to be an existential crisis,” Aguto said. “The church has powerful tools in theology and ministry that we need to bring to bear and to bring about the healing of the nation.”
That the U.S. is in the middle of presidential election year makes the work of the Catholic Climate Project all the more pertinent, said Aaron Salzman, a senior at Boston College who is the head organizer for the Catholic Divestment Network.
“It’s not political. Part of what Catholic social teaching is all about is that to live our faith out means getting engaged in the world of politics. And the U.S. bishops’ conference has made it clear as well that climate has to be among the issues we’re looking at,” he said.
The project seeks to partner with parishes and organizations that want to begin addressing climate change. Resources have been developed to guide participants through prayer services and liturgies, service projects, intergenerational encounters, healing and bridge-building, public demonstrations, classroom lessons, and advocacy and conversation with church and political leaders.
In addition, the project is providing grants of up to $1,000 each to parishes and organizations looking to implement faith-based environmental awareness and advocacy programs. The funds come from Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters of Huntington, Indiana, and other donors.
“Care for creation is a fundamental aspect of our ministry,” Aguto said. “It’s kind of like the new kid on the block. We’re trying to build some capacity and get this kid up and running.”
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