CARING FOR CREATION: WHAT PARISHES INSPIRED BY FRANCIS' ENCYCLICAL LAUDATO SI' ARE DOINGThe title of a July Catholic People’s Week at a Lancashire Monastery next week is “Bringing Francis into the parish”. Since becoming Pope, Francis has issued Evangelii Gaudium (the “Joy of the Gospel”) and Laudato Si’ (“On the Care For Our Common Home”). He says: “An authentic faith, which is never comfortable or completely personal, always involves a deep desire to change the world” (EG183).
The Catholic People’s Week will explore how this is realised in parishes. Another laity-led initiative with a focus on the mission of Pope Francis will also take place this month – the 2017 annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network with the theme, “A Sabbath for the Earth and the Poor: The challenge of Pope Francis”. This time the inspirational quote comes from Laudato Si’: “Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world” (LS237).Francis does not seem to have trouble getting directly into parishes. For example, as well as activity in his own parish, Mike McLoughlin of St Elphege’s, Wallington, in Southwark Diocese, has run Laudato Si’ study programmes at five deanery meetings and at diocesan level. He and other parishioners are also active with the local group Sutton for Justice and Peace, which recently promoted the message for Refugee Week of “Refugees welcome here”.
I have visited many dioceses and parishes over the past two years since Laudato Si’ was published, and Livesimply parishes, taking inspiration from Pope Francis, are beacon communities. The Society of African Missions (SMA) parish of Our Lady of the Rosary and St Patrick in Walthamstow, Brentwood Diocese, was presented with its Livesimply Parish Award on 12 March at a packed Sunday Mass after a collaborative effort between the two SMA priests of the parish – Fr Kevin Conway and Fr Angelo Lafferty – and a “Faith in Action” group chaired by Colm Gallagher. Promoting living simply and sustainably, caring for the Earth and offering solidarity to the poor, they have campaigned for climate justice, organised liturgies incorporating Creation care, and initiated an annual “Walk to Mass” Sunday. The parish opens its hall to the homeless and for all events insists on fairly traded products being used and a ban on disposable crockery and cutlery. After the award Mass, the congregation was given shower water timers to help reduce their water consumption.
St Henry Morse in Diss, Suffolk, East Anglia Diocese, received its award in May. The parish held a Livesimply week of action last September. They now eat less meat and use less water. Solar panels have been installed on the roof and a ground source heat pump in the grounds. “We want speaking and acting in favour of the most marginalised to become part of the Catholic DNA here in St Henry Morse,” says parish priest Fr David Bagstaff. He adds that “the greatest contribution to this massive challenge of prayer and action for our common home comes from Pope Francis in his letter, Laudato Si’ ”. The key lay collaborator in the parish, Judith Toth, was with the Cafod delegation at the Paris climate talks in December 2015.
One of the many priests who is supportive of Pope Francis’ mission and who finds it easy to engage parishioners is Fr Tom Grufferty of Immaculate Conception and St Joseph in Christchurch, Dorset. He describes Pope Francis as a “skilled master of the metaphor”, which “everyone in the pews understands immediately”. His favourite Pope Francis quote is from an interview where he said: “Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads … to those who have quit or are indifferent.” St Joseph has been prominent in the Christchurch Foodbank, which first worked out of the presbytery garage and now provides food to some 150 people each month.
Our Lady’s parish in Acomb, Middlesbrough Diocese, has a group meeting monthly to look at developing parish “care for our common home”, the subtitle of the encyclical. There are recycling bins and a church garden tended by volunteers. “This has been backed up by references in the parish newsletter to Laudato Si’,” reports parish pastoral council member Nan Saeki, “and relevant words from the pulpit by parish priest Fr Kevin Melody, O. Carm, who feels Carmelite charism and teaching is in line with what Pope Francis has been saying.” Ms Saeki is proud of promoting what she calls “Francis-speak”.
Middlesbrough Cathedral Parish has a Peace Garden within its grounds. Initially planted to commemorate 50 years of Pax Christi, in response to Laudato Si’ this is now cared for and replanted by parish children as part of the children’s liturgy and there are plans to incorporate bird boxes. Young people sponsor a project in Ghana. Every Saturday a team of volunteers make and serve a meal to around 50 homeless people. There is on-going support work for refugees and those seeking asylum – in welcoming, befriending, mentoring and fund raising. Teresa Lyth co-ordinates the Cathedral Justice and Peace Group and reports working with groups in two other Middlesbrough parishes to produce a joint liturgy for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on 1 September.
And, in Portsmouth Diocese, Our Lady and St Edmund parish in Abingdon recently signed up with Cafod to become a Livesimply parish; St Peter’s in Petersfield held a series of evening talks on Laudato Si’; Sacred Heart and St Peter the Apostle in Waterlooville has undertaken Laudato Si’ pledges. All should consider the pledge issued by the Global Catholic Climate Coalition on the second anniversary of Laudato Si’: to pray for and with Creation, live more simply, and advocate protecting our common home.
Despite this positive news, the Lancashire Catholic People’s Week will explore why Pope Francis’ teachings have had little practical impact on most of our parishes in England and Wales. One problem identified is poor clergy engagement. One active layman told me that at the end of a series of parish meetings on Evangelii Gaudium, he produced a paper on new ideas for the parish; but all of the ideas were either turned down directly or ignored by the priest.
attend events and use study programmes based on Francis’ teachings
on protecting what God has entrusted to us
become a Livesimply parish and gain the award by living simply,
in solidarity with the poor and sustainably with Creation.
prepare for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation
on 1 September and Creation Time that runs to 4 October.
Ellen Teague is part of the Columban Justice, Peace and Ecology Team.