HARTFORD – Leaders of Catholic agencies taking part in the Hartford Earth Festival hope that an expected encyclical on ecology by Pope Francis will boost interest in the May 31 event to be held at several locations in the capital city.
Capuchin Franciscan Father Samuel Fuller, who resides at St. Pius X Rectory in Middletown, has helped organize the event, formerly called Riverfront Earth Day, for several years. Father Fuller said the encyclical could be released in June, just days after the Hartford event. It is expected to focus on “the ecology of mankind,” according to early Vatican reports.
Shawnee Baldwin, youth ministry coordinator with the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Religious Education and Evangelization (OREE), said that the encyclical was expected earlier this year “but it’s coming out in the summer, which could be even better. That makes us look really proactive.”
Hartford Earth Festival will feature exhibits at the Connecticut Science Center, 250 Columbus Blvd., from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; a Connecticut Climate March from the state Capitol to Mortensen Riverfront Plaza starting at noon; and exhibits, entertainment, food and vendors at the riverfront from 1-5 p.m. Most events are free, except for admission to the science center.
Participating Catholic agencies include OREE, Catholic Charities, the Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry, the Office for Hispanic Ministries and the Office for Black Catholic Ministries.
The event is sponsored by the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (IREJN), under the direction of Teresa Eickel.
Ms. Baldwin said the event will not only complement the pope’s encyclical but will also be held in conjunction with United Nations World Environment Day slated for June 5. This is the first year that she has been involved to any great extent, she said.
The exhibit at the science center will be about dinosaurs. “And what happened to the dinosaurs? Well, climate change,” she said.
Father Fuller said, “One of the key things we wanted to get was the Connecticut Science Center on board because it’s right on the plaza.” He reached out to Andrea Mesquita-White, family specialist at the Asylum Hill Family Center of Catholic Charities, because she had engaged the science center to take part in a science event at the family center.
Ms. Mesquita-White did more than help Ms. Baldwin facilitate the inclusion of the science center in the event. She also is involved in several Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZ) in Hartford, and she working toward getting them involved, as well.
“This isn’t just about one entity; it’s about community. For Asylum Hill, what we share is a unique opportunity to draw the community in,” she said.
“There are tangible ways for parents and children [to] see how environment matters,” she said. “It’s the air we breathe, so once you put it down to something so simplistic, there’s no one that it doesn’t affect.”
Ms. Eickel said it is important for people in urban communities to be environmentally conscious because they are at risk of flooding and extreme weather conditions. “If it were a rural community that is poor, they may rely on the land for food. If they are an urban community, they live right on the water and they would literally need to flee the floodwaters,” she said.
Ms. Eickel is a co-founder of IREJN, a Connecticut nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness of environmental issues.
Father Fuller said that caring for the environment is true to his mission as a Franciscan. “There are many ways to approach creation – in terms of morality; in terms of stewardship, which is the traditional matter; but Saint Francis goes further – as transformative,” he said. “I have to say from my own faith first and foremost, you have to relate to what simply is and you have to relate to creation as it is in the earth, as an environmental crisis. You can’t be blind to it or on your own personal little journey.”