BY TYLER WAGNER | September 8, 2017
“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental (Laudato Si, 139).”
In 2014, St. Ignatius Parish in Portland, Oregon was at a crossroads. While the parish community had a robust commitment to social justice, it was evident that a more focused and integrated vision was needed for how the parish community united to engage in that work.
Listening for the urgent call of Jesus in our times, the parish engaged in a “Year of Discernment,” utilizing the Jesuit tradition to take a long look at the way that the St. Ignatius community was living out the call to social justice.
In Laudato Si’, which was released during the discernment year, the parish heard and took to heart Pope Francis’ focus on a Church that both stands for and with the poor, and cares for creation. This focus drew the parish to ecojustice as a primary focus as the discernment phase came to a close.
With this newly discerned parish mission and emphasis on ecological justice in the global Church, forming people and relationships within our community to do work for justice was an important place to start. Small faith sharing groups were formed during Lent in 2016 and 2017. A retreat entitled Active Hope: Earth Day and Every Day drew over 40 people to cultivate a spirit of action and contemplation in a community of hope. The ecojustice focus was also woven into our parish Confirmation preparation and the RCIA process.
“When I decided I wanted to go through the RCIA process, I wanted to find a place that felt like my own and that aligned with my identity,” shares Ashley Clark. “After finding information about St. Ignatius’ work with ecojustice and social justice, I knew that this would be the place for me.”
An Ecojustice Steering Committee was formed for parish lay leaders and staff to provide oversight and support for projects within the parish. Faith Formation and Act-Advocacy Teams were created as a collaboration between key staff members and parishioners who stepped up to plan opportunities in faith formation, ecojustice action, and advocacy. Other opportunities were brought forth and led by passionate parishioners and supported by parish staff, including snowshoeing trips and an Earth Day showing of the documentary How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change).
One of the most exciting parts of our ecojustice work has been the opportunity to get to know other parishioners and community members through service. Early this year, a group of parishioners worked to help plant 900 trees in the Clatsop Butte Natural Area in East Portland. On a classically temperamental Oregon spring day, with some rain and some clear skies, as we clambered around an area previously cleared of blackberries and other invasive species, planting native species to foster new life. It was satisfying work and we ended the day with hands dirty and a number of deepened relationships, in a way that working alongside someone seems to do best.
Throughout this past year, we have participated in other events, including assisting with the creation of a green space at a new center for families experiencing homelessness in East Portland. Parishioner and Parish Family Life Coordinator Beth Schaller helped at this event with her family. She shared that “it was one of the first projects that was tangibly helping the community. It was nice to do it with the parish community and complete a project that makes a difference.”
When asked about the impact of the ecojustice focus on the parish community, Schaller added “It has drawn out a lot of interest from people. It’s created a focal point for justice work at the parish. There has been coordination of the liturgical, active, and political aspects and has given people the place to participate in liturgy, service, action, and reflection. It feels cohesive and it’s become very apparent in its presence throughout the parish. It affects all areas of our parish life, so it is very visible. It is a great way to reach across generations.”
Another focus has been on advocacy for ecojustice issues, particularly diesel pollution, brought to the forefront by parishioner Erika Moseson. The ecojustice advocacy team drafted a letter calling on Oregon lawmakers to address the harmful effects of diesel pollution contributing to asthma, lung disease, and hundreds of deaths of Oregonians per year. We connected this issue to the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching laid out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. After collecting over 200 signatures from parishioners, we sent the parish letter to each of our state senators and representatives. Parishioners also made calls and sent postcards to their representatives to increase the parish call for justice on this issue.
“As a Catholic, a mother, and a lung doctor who is very worried about the effects of diesel on the health of our vulnerable populations and our children, I am so happy to see my parish advocating for clean air for all,” says Moseson. While the bill passed, there is still much more work to be done in this area, and the parish community is preparing to continue to advocate over the coming months and years.
The emphasis on ecojustice has also been incorporated into the liturgy. Prayers of the faithful nearly always include care for the Earth or a similar call for intercession. One of the church alcoves is now given a rotating ecojustice focus. Themes have included psalms talking of creation giving glory to God, the first climate refugees in the United States in Louisiana, and women leaders in ecojustice work. Homilies and reflections from pastors and laypeople have helped to lift up the work for justice, and how this work and care for the earth and the poor is integral to living out our faith.
From September 1 to October 4, Catholics are invited to pray and care for creation together with 2.2 billion Christians and in solidarity with all people of goodwill. At St. Ignatius, we will kick off the Season of Creation with our pastor, Fr. Craig Boly, S.J., incorporating into our monthly Anointing Mass the need for healing our relationship with creation. Throughout the month, we will participate in depaving a nearby parish’s parking lot to make space for trees and stormwater facilities; we will host three retreats with focuses on Our One Common Home and Active Hope; and will conclude the season with a vigil on the eve of St. Francis’ feast day. The hope is that this time of prayer, community, and action will enable us as individuals and a community to live out the urgent call of our times to care for the earth and care for the poor.
Tyler Wagner is currently serving as the St. Ignatius Fellow, with a focus on ecological justice and youth ministry, at St. Ignatius Church in Portland, Oregon. Tyler graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Environmental Sciences and then spent a year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Portland, OR with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon as their Food Justice Coordinator.