BLOOMFIELD – More than 200 parish ministry leaders, educators and volunteers interested in Catholic social teaching attended the seventh annual Bishop Peter Rosazza Social Justice Conference on June 11 at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary.
Teens were noticeably present at this year’s conference, including students from Sacred Heart Parish in Hartford, East Catholic High School in Manchester and St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol.
Bishop Rosazza presented the 2016 Faith and Justice Award to Shawnee Baldwin, the archdiocesan coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, for her efforts in spreading social justice teaching to youth and young adults and for her work in facilitating recycling at the archdiocesan center.
This year’s theme, “Rooted in Faith: Caring for Our Common Home,” served as the kickoff for Laudato Si' Week in the Archdiocese of Hartford, which ran from June 12-18.
The keynote address was delivered by Sister Damien Marie Savino, chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Studies, with a joint appointment in theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. The Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist spoke on “Heeding the Cry of the Poor and the Cry of the Earth.”
In her talk, she walked conference attendees through Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care of Our Common Home, providing key quotes from the document along with brief explanations. The document addresses climate change, water issues, biodiversity and our throwaway culture, she said, but is more important for introducing some key concepts.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast.” For this reason, Pope Francis described the current ecological crisis as “a summons to profound interior conversion.” Pope Francis is challenging the whole world, not just Catholics, to take notice and action, Sister Damien said.
She noted that Pope Francis has pulled his thoughts together in one critical quote: “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions for justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
The pope has proposed the idea of “integral ecology,” suggesting that the environmental crisis and our social crisis are all one, she said. “They’re intertwined and complex, so we always need to look at the human person in social relationships whenever we look at environmental issues,” she said.
Pope Francis also offered a theological development that Sister Damien characterized as “groundbreaking.”
Pope Francis wrote, “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.”
“He lays it down and refers to it again and again,” she explained.
Pope Francis noted that the gravest effects of environmental damage also affect the poor.
According to Pope Francis, heeding the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor involves four steps: (1) getting to the root of the problem, (2) getting back in touch with reality by going outdoors, (3) practicing integral ecology and (4) looking at others “with the gaze of Jesus.”
We must read reality “in a Trinitarian key,” through the three persons in one God, and we must always keep God in the picture or we become God, Sister Damien said.
She noted that Pope Francis also stressed the importance of the ecology of daily life. “There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle,” he wrote.
These actions, Pope Francis said, can be as small as avoiding the use of plastic and paper or reducing water consumption.
“If done as an act of love, it’s not to be minimized,” Sister Damien said.
According to Sister Damien, the pope also urged “moderation” and “sobriety” in acquiring material goods. “Every act of purchasing is a moral choice,” she explained.
Finally, she urged attendees to use the pope’s document as a starting place for environmental action.
“Laudato Si’ is dedicated to the whole world and is a great entrance point for ecumenical groups to collaborate,” Sister Damien said.
“The Catholic Church,” she concluded, “has the full vision of our place in creation.”