BY TYLER WAGNER | November 27, 2017
Life-giving. Spirit-filled. Healing.
These were words that parishioners shared after participating in Season of Creation events at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon.
The Season of Creation began on Friday, September 1 with a joint message from Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew calling for believers to “respond to the plea of millions and support the healing of our wounded creation,” as the community at St. Ignatius celebrated a traditional First Friday Anointing of the Sick Mass with blessings of healing for creation, as well as sick parishioners.
Throughout the Season, parishioners led, organized, and were invited to participate in events that wove the “care for our common home” into liturgy, faith formation, community, and service. With this community participation, parishioners were asked to share in their words their experiences at the events they attended.
I had the opportunity to volunteer at Ascension, a neighboring parish, for their project to take up some of the asphalt in their parking lot. They wanted to create a rain garden or bioswale to capture some of the rain runoff, and avoid tainted water from entering the Willamette River. The non-profit organization DEPAVE partnered with the parish to make this happen. The pavement was prepped with two ft. squares cut into the asphalt, and dumpsters, crowbars, wheelbarrows, gloves, and eye protectors were provided. The parish supplied snacks, drinks, lunch and great music. With good weather and community support, the backbreaking work went smoothly and quickly. I experienced how many hands make even hard work go fast. I felt blessed to help our neighbors and be part of a group caring for creation. The DEPAVE motto is “free your soil,” an idea that resonated with my soul as we worked to create a garden to replace asphalt. The next step is to plant trees and other foliage in November. I look forward to the transformation that this faith in action will produce. [Kathy Mitchell, reflecting on a service experience at a neighboring parish]
Women gathered on retreat to thoughtfully consider our relationship to our mother earth. What formed the soil of our family trees? What are our deepest concerns? We listened to each others’ stories of family members we never met and homelands our children will never know. Someone has time to garden; someone who does not shops at farmers’ markets. Someone has an affinity for clear waters tumbling over smooth rocks; another for trees so ancient they were seedlings when Christ was born.
“Have you ever heard the breathing of a tree?”
We are in relationship with each other and with all of creation. Hawks mate for life; elephants teach their young; whales sing; and trees share soil nutrients with each other. Having experienced loss, we seek and find hope in imagining a world in which people hear the cry of the wounded earth and wounded peoples and the ones we must let go of will be nurtured by another caring soul.
Holding each other’s stories, struggles, hopes is a privilege and a blessing in our lives. We did not instantly restore all of creation in our day retreat. We left with the sure knowledge that we are not alone in our care for our common home. [Joyce Keane, Just-Faith One Common Home retreat participant]
Hope was explored as a question, a yearning, a faith position, an embodied intention. Barbara Ford, the workshop facilitator and an activist, artist, singer, and songwriter, provided opportunities for everyone to interact in small groups. The Spirit flowed through the conversations. People shared stories of their life journeys, from challenges met to moments of conversion, self-honesty and justice. The retreat offered a safe space to examine natural emotional reactions of grief, fear, anger, and numbness in the face of stark realities: abuse of power, racism, political division, and climate crises. Offered were new and creative ways to resist oppression, and to practice “radical gratitude” and self-care of the mind and body. Barbara called everyone to be inclusive in framing worldviews, and to commit to actions and rituals that build resilience and community interdependence. [Barb Scharff, one of 38 big-hearted people, including St. Ignatius parishioners and other Catholics, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Unitarian and Buddhist, who joined in a Hope Is What We Do workshop at the Loyola Jesuit Center in Portland, Oregon.]
Mrs. Sadie Villanova’s 5th grade class at St. Ignatius school built a “Tree of Life” in the church sanctuary to celebrate the Season of Creation and focus attention on the beauty and abundance of creation, while considering the way students can be good stewards.
Students created a tree with branches and leaves filled with their feelings about the care of creation and ideas for action they could take to care for the earth. Joy, faith, and hope were a few of the words many students wrote while the ideas ranged from composting, to recycling, to planting trees and native plants. Then to celebrate the end of the Season of Creation, the students made St. Francis and their favorite animals to decorate the tree. Parrots, lions, rabbits, butterflies and many more spread around the tree. “All creation is a gift” wrote one student, as the 5th grade class demonstrated how well they recognize this and are already living out a care for creation.
On October 3rd, the eve of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the parish hosted a lay-led vigil to honor the memory of Francis, to celebrate the “Transitus” of his passing, and to conclude our Season of Creation. Katie Hennessy presided over the vigil and shared her reflections on the event.
The service included five separate readings from the story of the death of Francis, a Gospel reading and a reflection given by our special guest, Valerie Chapman, long time Pastoral Administrator at our neighboring parish, St. Francis of Assisi.
Valerie delivered a profound message of conversion. Embedded in her words were these, “It is, in the end, only love that can move us toward lasting transformation.”
We dove deeper into quiet listening to a well-crafted guided meditation. The narration invited us to notice where patterns of possessing more separate us from the joy of simple living. Each calling to awareness included a petition.
Light from our Easter Candle was distributed to our individual candles. With faces aglow we turned to our neighbor, sharing a word or a phrase of God’s call to us. We exchanged a sign of Peace and then we were sent forth into the night, singing.
We celebrated Francis’ death to New Life; we also concluded the Season of Creation with a brand new beginning. [Katie Hennessy, reflection on an October 3 lay-led vigil on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, concluding the Season of Creation]
Life-giving. Spirit-filled. Healing. Our Season of Creation were often each of things and much more for our parish. Yet our work does not end here. The Hope workshop showed us how hope is a verb and gave us ideas on how to “reactivate” ourselves so that we may active and justice-focused contemplatives in action. The St. Francis vigil rooted us in a message of love and offered us an incredible model of St. Francis for the work to care for the earth and care for the poor. Our parish strives to continue worshipping and forming ourselves to be faith-filled people working for justice within our world.
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.