BY ISN STAFF | July 16, 2019
At the inaugural gathering of “’Laudato Si’ and the U.S. Catholic Church: A Conference Series on Our Common Home,” held at Creighton University June 27-29, one thing was clear: We need to start looking at climate change as a spiritual issue.
Keynote remarks by the Most Rev. Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, and Meghan Goodwin, associate director of government relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, kicked off the three-day event. The gathering at Creighton was the first of three planned biennial conferences. All are aimed at inspiring current and future environmental and Church leaders to more thoroughly execute Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical decrying climate change and its devastating effects on poor communities around the world.
Brenna Davis, the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s educational resource and environmental justice coordinator, attended the conference and presented briefly on ISN’s environmental advocacy work and Ignatian Carbon Challenge. “The conference provided an opportunity to hear from experts in fields of theology and science and contemplate the moral dimensions of climate change,” said Davis. “Participants were given time to collaborate and share best practices in their areas of ministry, and people left feeling energized to do this work in their communities. Although the changes we need to make in the next ten years are monumental, the prophetic tradition of our faith provides a roadmap toward a sustainable future. I left the conference feeling hopeful and energized, with a renewed sense of urgency in working on issues related to climate change.”
Sponsored by Creighton and the Catholic Climate Covenant, the conference featured addresses from spiritual leaders and environmental advocates. Following the lectures, conference participants split up into small groups and discussed how to integrate Laudato Si’ into eight areas of Catholic life: adult faith, advocacy, creation care teams, energy management, higher education, liturgy, school education, and young adult ministry.
“You have been selected to be here at this time because of the urgency of this moment, because our common home is in serious jeopardy. You answered the call because you care,” Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, told the crowd. “We all have been chosen to be co-creators with God on this beautiful blue planet that is under threat by our own hand.”
Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, welcomed visitors to campus and outlined the ways the University has committed itself to environmental responsibility: reducing greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity by almost 25 percent, installing solar and wind energy systems on campus and pledging to be carbon neutral before 2050. In addition, he said, Creighton’s bachelor’s degree programs in sustainability and environmental science offer students the chance to learn about ecological issues from a multidisciplinary perspective.
“In a sense, we at Creighton University have committed ourselves to help the Catholic Church discern adequate responses to the contemporary challenges like ecological degradation and climate change,” he said. “In many ways, this commitment emerges from our mission and experience: Discernment is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality which grounds our University, and Creighton continues to discern what prudent care for God’s creation requires of us.”
The event’s opening-night keynote speakers—Fr. McElroy and Goodwin—stressed the need for a worldwide spiritual renewal that would fuel a wave of compassion. They said that when people feel genuine concern for their fellow humans, and for the generations to come, they are more likely to create effective change.
“A culture of giftedness integrates the fact of creation with an inner disposition of heart and soul that recognizes the limits of individual or national claims to the possession of the created order,” Fr. McElroy said. “It includes in outlook and lifestyle the acknowledgement of the universal destination of material goods and the sanctity of every creature.”
Goodwin, who works to convey the priorities of Catholic bishops to members of Congress, said it’s important to think and act locally and globally, particularly to protect the poorest communities, which are often exploited. She told a story about students in Curtis Bay, a neighborhood in Baltimore, who successfully lobbied the city to scrap its plans to build a toxic garbage incinerator near their school.
Catholics, she said, can work through the political structures available to them to make a difference.
“As incarnate beings called to relationship with God and one another, we should participate in the institutions that govern our social relationships, including our governmental institutions,” she said. “No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, early engagement could help to create a scenario where both candidates are debating who has the superior solution to addressing environmental degradation. This will help to keep them accountable for delivering a legislative solution stabilized by bipartisanship.”