Parishioners of SS. Peter and Paul in Hamburg with its newly formed environmental committee hope to promote greener living and reflect the message of Pope Francis in his most recent encyclical.
The newly formed committee will begin by holding meetings on Nov. 10, 17 and 24, in the church's chapel at 7 p.m. The group will discuss and learn from Pope Francis' "Laudato Si," or "Blessed Be," and will discuss people's relationship with the rest of the planet and how to address many social issues.
"At those meetings, we will discuss and learn from the encyclical, what our relationships are to the rest of the planet, to the rest of life on the planet," said Sandra Kucharski, a founding member. "It's all interrelated together - it's all God's creation and we have to become conscious of this. When we hurt, waste and abuse part of God's creation, we're actually abusing ourselves and other human beings."
Kucharski, a parishioner of SS. Peter and Paul, said the idea to begin a parish group known as a Creation Care team had been germinating in her mind for the last six months. She began thinking of such a committee ever since she knew Pope Francis would be writing an encyclical on climate change and care for humanity's common home - not just among the Catholic community, but among all who are interested in environmental concerns.
"I've been interested in what his approach would be and what he would call us to do," she said. "I read the encyclical in May when it came out. I was just moved to start this program. I spend a lot of time in Canada because we have a seasonal house here, but I wanted to start a program in our parish."
Kucharski began by going to www.catholicclimatecovenant.org, which has a link with information on how committed Catholics can begin Creation Care teams in their own neighborhoods. Teams are given access to resources and other information to help their parish, school, community or place of employment to spread the message about advocating for more environmentally friendly policies.
"I'm a wife and mother and I have three kids and I have five grandchildren," Kucharski said of her motivation to start the team. "I have two very small grandchildren, 1 and 2. I'm very concerned about what the world is going to be like when they're adults trying to raise their families."
Kucharski also had the help of Sister Sharon Goodremote, FSSJ, chair of the diocesan Care for Creation Committee. Kucharski has remained instrumental in bringing awareness to her community on a parish level. After seeking out Sister Sharon's assistance, she contacted Father Arthur Mattulke, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, to discuss the matter with him. Soon after, they decided on the dates for the team's first three meetings. At these meetings, they plan to discuss the encyclical and what it means to live a more ecological lifestyle.
Father Mattulke said when Kucharski first came to him with the idea, he did not know much about what it would entail, but was enthusiastic about how it would benefit his parish community. She presented him with a packet of paperwork with information on how to begin a new Creation Care team.
"I said I would love to," Father Mattulke said. "It's been on my heart for some time to get something going here, especially with the Holy Father's encyclical. I'm certainly 100 percent behind it. We definitely want to do this. We want to get it started here and anything I can do to assist in any way, I would love to. My suggestion was that we could turn it into a garden committee, where we could beautify the grounds and the area, and things like that, and take care of God's creation in that sense as well."
From there, Kucharski said Father Mattulke would like the group to become a standing committee in the parish, so after these initial first three meetings, it will expand into brainstorming ideas for how to take action in the community. Although the group is currently small, they are spreading the word.
"We hope to have in the bulletin, copies of the St. Francis Pledge, and see how many people we can get to sign that. Maybe they can become new members," Kucharski said.
In order to live as Pope Francis calls communities to do, Kucharski said people can start small with such things as asking for cups that are not paper if they get morning coffee, or walking or taking a bicycle for a short trip instead of driving. Instead of cutting the grass every week or using commercial weed killers, she said, people may try the options of not using extra gas and simply leaving the weeds in the lawn.
As chair of the diocesan committee, Sister Sharon said creating a committee within a parish, as a direct response to Pope Francis' call to care for our common home, is "exactly what the Diocesan Care for Creation Committee is hoping will happen" throughout the Diocese of Buffalo.
"Father Art and Sandy are providing opportunities for their parishioners to hear Church teaching on caring for creation and find practical ways to be that one person who restores hope," Sister Sharon said.
Kucharski said people have to learn to speak out about caring for creation.
"Some people don't like hearing this," she said. "They're afraid their livelihood will be threatened or their lifestyle will be threatened, but right now we're all threatened. This is happening. When people try to deny it, I don't know if they deny it so much as they say it's not manmade and man can't do anything. Yes, we can do something."