In Australia, the Catholic Church will celebrate Laudato si’ Week this year from 16 to 24 May with the theme ‘Hope for the Earth, Hope for Humanity’.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical Laudato si': On Care for our Common Home—published eight years ago this year—the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has established the Laudato si' Action Platform, an online space offering the Church ‘tools and resources for the journey towards total sustainability in the spirit of integral ecology’.
Also taking their inspiration from Laudato si’, a number of parish communities in Melbourne have heeded Pope Francis’ call to take action to care for our common home. For a number of years, the parishes of Our Lady of the Assumption in Cheltenham and St Agnes’ in Highett, both located in Melbourne’s south-east, have actively sought to ‘care for our common home’.
According to Adrian Foley, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption, seven members of the parish’s Care for our Common Home group have met monthly since 2018 (including by Zoom during COVID lockdowns).
Adrian, who chairs the group, points out that ‘In his encyclical, the Pope calls us back to right relationship with the earth, each other and God. Pope Francis calls us to an “ecological conversion”, to develop a more passionate concern for the protection of our world.’
‘We must learn to live so that everyone will have enough, and so that the earth may be able to replenish its renewable resources,’ he says, echoing two important themes of Laudato si'.
As well as signing up to the Laudato si’ Action Plan last year, the group was inspired by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s 2021–22 Social Justice Statement, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor. ‘The statement spoke about Indigenous people quite a bit, expressing the wisdom of First Nations people,’ says Adrian. ‘So that really gave us a lead to broaden Laudato si’ to include social-justice issues such as fair trade, and giving voice to our First Nations people.’
To this end, the group is hosting a ‘From the Heart’ workshop on Sunday 21 May, to help people learn more about issues related to the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Voice to Parliament, and to delve into some of the issues highlighted by the Uluru Statement from the Heart. ‘We hope to offer a way to understand and respond to these issues in a Christian context so that similar conversations can spread in our homes, workplaces and social gatherings.’
The group has also created a Laudato si’ reflection document on the Action Platform, outlining some of the parishes’ actions in pursuit of the sustainability goals of Laudato si’. And through bi-monthly updates to the weekly parish bulletin, the group brings Laudato si’ to the attention of all parishioners.
Another parish that is trying to keep Pope Francis’ call to conversion alive and active is St Dominic’s in Camberwell, in Melbourne’s east. Parishioner Denis Fitzgerald, a former executive director of Catholic Social Services Victoria, is part of the parish’s Justice and Peace Group, which has dedicated a section on the parish website to integral ecology. Last year, parishioners Sr Margaret Mary Brown OP and Margaret Fields hosted parallel series of seven sessions to read through the encyclical and explore more deeply its challenging message. From those sessions, a guide on how to care for our common home at a personal and parish level was developed and distributed within the weekly parish bulletin. At the same time, St Dominic’s worked with the Cheltenham and Highett parishes to host an online forum on how parishes might engage more deeply with the cry of the earth.
Even with all the resources and guides that are available, Denis says it can be difficult for parishes to heed the call of Pope Francis. ‘We need to get people on board in order to pursue initiatives,’ he explains, ‘but there are only so many people and so many hours available, and they need to be used strategically. Cooperation between parishes is one way of leveraging our scarce human resources.’ As Pope Francis himself says, ‘Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed’ (LS, §14).
Catholic Earthcare Australia (CEA) is taking on the challenge of providing Catholic parishes, schools and agencies with an integrated, coordinated and Australian approach to implementing the Laudatio si’ goals. A program of Caritas Australia, CEA was launched 18 months ago, and there are currently 80 registered ‘Earthcare parishes’ across Australia, including a number within the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Kerry Stone has been working with Caritas Australia for almost 30 years and is the national coordinator for Catholic Earthcare parishes. She says, ‘We created the Catholic Earthcare Certified Programs when the goals were launched because there was a need for an “Australian accompaniment pathway”.’
‘In essence, we’re accompanying Australian parishes, because when a parish signs up to the international platform, which we encourage, it can be quite a lonely journey, and it’s not within our Australian context. When parishes sign up to the Catholic Earthcare hub, there is a wide-ranging audit, where our First Nations people and our relationship with them are an integral part of that.
‘So we provide a framework and mechanism for parishes to talk to others, to hear from others, to support each other, all while taking account of our particular Australian context.’
Four times a year, Kerry coordinates a national Zoom gathering for Earthcare parish representatives, which provides a ‘fabulous opportunity for parishes to share what they’re doing, to get ideas and, ultimately, to be inspired to act in their own areas’. From the information shared in the gatherings, she then creates the Inspiring Ideas newsletter, which goes out across the network.
‘We just had a national Zoom, and I always get so excited by everybody who’s on the Zoom because it’s amazing to see what an extraordinary range of things are happening across so many different parishes.’
There are a lot of native plantings taking place, many outdoor prayer gardens and prayer walks being established, and screenings of The Letter: A Message for our Earth, a documentary that is being promoted internationally and that tells the story of a journey to Rome of frontline leaders to discuss Laudato si’ with Pope Francis.
Kerry explains that the parishioners of St Mary of the Cross, Mordialloc–Aspendale, in Melbourne’s south, have just finished planting their community herb garden close to the footpath outside St Louis De Montfort, Aspendale. Once there is enough growth, they’ll be putting up signs for the community to come and take what is needed for a meal.
They’ve also set up a ‘BnB Highway’, an intergenerational project shared by Grade 5 students at St Brigid’s primary school and residents of Nixon House Aged Care next door, which aims to attract birds and bees back to their area. ‘That’s all about biodiversity, and involves young and old, so it’s an amazing thing that they’ve done,’ says Kerry. ‘The parish’s coordinator, Julie, said they’d never have done this if they hadn’t heard about it from one of the others (in NSW) talking about it in the Zoom gathering.’
Again, the bishops’ statement Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor has been central to establishing an Australian framework to guide parishes, schools, diocesan agencies and community groups in their efforts towards an integrated ecology. ‘For some people, they see this as a narrow environmental thing, but as Pope Francis made so clear, ecology means everything is intimately connected. It’s a new understanding and a new thinking. And that’s why Catholic Earthcare Australia fits so perfectly within Caritas Australia’s work, because the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are so intimately linked. And so ecological justice is about how we respond and take action in relation to all living things—the earth and its people.
‘So, our audit is not just about checking your water and your electricity and your insulation. It’s all about how you’re relating across everything and really serves as a reflective tool.’
Kerry is encouraged by the number of parishes that are continuing to join the Catholic Earthcare hub, with 21 dioceses across the country now represented. Eventually, the aim is to assist these parishes to join the international Laudato si’ action platform site—linking them to an international Church community—while continuing to provide support within the local Australian context.
Adding to this, Kerry is heartened by decrees one and eight of the recent Australian Plenary Council which affirm the principles and calls to action outlined in Pope Francis' Laudato Si’. Decree One, Reconciliation: Healing Words, Receiving Gifts, confirms the Church’s commitment to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people towards recognition, reconciliation and justice. It also endorses the Uluru Statement from the Heart and encourages engagement with the processes for implementing the statement. Decree 8, Integral Ecology and Conversion for the Sake of our Common Home, recognises the sacred duty to care for and protect the Earth as a common home for all God’s creatures, including the generations to come and encourages all Catholic people to accept Pope Francis’ invitation to join the Laudato Si’ Action Platform as a vehicle for their ecological conversion.
Parishes are encouraged to join the Catholic Earthcare Hub. There is no cost. For any enquiries, contact Kerry Stone.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC)11 May 2023
Melbourne Catholic10 May 2022