In the coming weeks, an environmental advocacy group inspired by Pope Francis' encyclical on care for creation and the common home, "Laudato Si," or "Praised Be," plans to hold meetings to discuss further plans for promoting its goals including a renewed focus on advocating elected officials to pass greener policies. The diocesan Care for Creation Committee and its affiliated Creation Care team at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Hamburg will have meetings at the parish on Jan. 5, 12 and 19.
According to Sister Sharon Goodremote, FSSJ, the committee's chair, the Jan. 12 meeting will focus on a training session for those who wish to effectively advocate members of Congress, and other state and federal officials, on behalf of the environment. Sister Sharon and Sandra Kucharski, a founding member of the Hamburg group, are heavily involved in the committee. Sister Sharon said this is crucial in terms of educating vicariates, both priests and laypeople, on these matters.
"We're really looking at the encyclical where the pope really encourages us to actively get involved and try to create systemic changes in how we view our energy and how we lessen our carbon emissions," Sister Sharon said. "We're going to be setting up workshops and opportunities for Catholics to learn how to advocate to their federal, local and state representatives."
Sister Sharon emphasized that advocacy to all three of these levels of government is important because each level can do something to improve how people lessen carbon emissions and energy usage. In addition to the encyclical, the committee is taking cues from the Paris United Nations Climate Change Conference, which ran from Nov. 30 until Dec. 11. Decisions made at this conference and put forth must be enacted by the United States government in order to be effective here, which calls for more advocacies.
"We really need to do some advocacy on how we are going to agree to support and finalize the country so we go forward as a nation trying to improve the environment and care for creation," Sister Sharon continued further.
Pope Francis said in his encyclical that recent world summits on the environment, including Rio and Stockholm, did not live up to expectations due to "lack of political will." According to Sister Sharon, this "political will" comes from ordinary citizens, which is where advocates for the environment, both secular and religious, have influence. The goal is not to act as though activists think they know more than elected officials, but simply to make their interests known since politicians are representing the people.
"It's a building of relationships with civil servants, so they know where their constituents stand," Sister Sharon explained. "We're doing this in ways that will help train people to do that. We talk to them about writing letters to the editor so we're educating a wider group of people other than just the people who come to workshops and things of that nature, how to write letters to their representatives."
When a group of law students from the University of New York at Buffalo went to the summit in Paris, they presented a scroll with the names of more than 2,000 people from Western New York, including a number of members of the Care for Creation Committee and the Interfaith Justice Group, which is also working in the area to get information on the environment. The groups work together and support each other.
"They collected signatures, but we also added ones from Catholic groups," Sister Sharon said. "I think there were 500 from St. Joseph University Church in Buffalo, so altogether it was 2,000 people."
At the summit, people involved recommended that a certain amount of emissions decrease has to take place. A major obstacle to that comes in terms of requiring every country's government to approve any decreases and that agreement. This is where ordinary citizens can help. Sister Sharon said this is not just a religious issue since it is also one of social justice and caring for other human beings. She also said that in today's world, many people are of the mindset that one should care only about what happens to people in their own country.
"The same mindset of not doing anything or treating the earth as a common home - that same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming, also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty," she continued. "It is the poor who are suffering for this already, and we, as the strongest and the richest country in the world, need to have a strong stand on saying we are in this not just for us as a nation, but also for our brothers and sisters."
The committee is fueled by not only its own passion, but a paragraph near the beginning of Pope Francis' encyclical in which he asks humanity to "become painfully aware to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering, and thus to discover what each of us can do about it."
"He's saying, 'Look at what is happening to our world and to our brothers and sisters in other countries because of this climate change, and let's become painfully aware of it,'" Sister Sharon said. "Only if you realize the suffering of other people, and reach out to them in love, are you going to change your behavior."
Sister Sharon said that in his encyclical, Pope Francis is saying that something deeper is needed than just facts about climate change.
"It's becoming better human beings and being concerned about how we relate to one another, how we relate to earth, how we make decisions," she concluded. "He talks about integral ecology. Every choice you make, you make with the idea of how it is going to affect the world, the earth. How is it going to affect people who are poor, our brothers and sisters?"