In honor of Earth Day, the diocesan Care for Creation Committee will host prayer gatherings and events to honor Mother Earth and Sister Water to follow the example the pope set for Catholics to care for the planet. The facilitators of the events include sisters who are members of the Franciscan congregations in Western New York.
As a result of the publication of the pope's encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si," along with the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Mich., the Franciscan communities will host three multi-faith prayer gatherings to show collective gratitude for clean water and pray for those who do not have it. Sister Sharon Goodremote, FSSJ, chair of the Care for Creation Committee, said the idea for Sister Water events came when Bishop Richard J. Malone held a press conference in June 2015, shortly after Pope Francis published his encyclical.
"Bishop Malone asked that Franciscans from the congregations in the diocese to come and stand behind him, since the encyclical is based on St. Francis' prayer, 'Canticle of Creation,' " Sister Sharon said. "The group of Franciscans stayed together and, in their meetings, were inspired to have a day to honor Sister Water since there are significant bodies of water throughout Western New York. We made the prayer service ecumenical, quoting various faiths on their belief that their creator also calls them to care for His gift of creation."
One gathering will take place at Penn Dixie Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center in Blasdell on Saturday, April 9, at 2 p.m. This event is co-sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, the Felician Sisters and the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. Another event will take place at 11 a.m., Saturday, April 23, at Franchot Park in Olean, sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany. A third event will take place at 10 a.m., Friday, April 29, at the Stella Niagara Preserve in Lewiston, with the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity.
Additionally, the Care for Creation Committee at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Hamburg will be hosting a lecture by Dr. Alan H. Lockwood, professor emeritus of neurology and nuclear medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo, at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 19, at Bogel Hall at Hilbert College in Hamburg. Lockwood, the author of the book, "The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health," will speak to attendees about climate change and its effects on human health.
The organizers are Sister Sharon and Sandra Kucharski, a parishioner of SS. Peter and Paul Parish and a founding member of the SS. Peter and Paul committee.
"Earth Day celebrations raise our consciousness about our relationship to all of God's creation," Kucharski said. "It makes us aware that what we do to the earth, to the plants, to the animals, air and water, we're actually doing to ourselves, and it actually affects our relationship with each other and with God. I would hope that when we have an Earth Day celebration, it's a celebration of that trinity of a relationship, the relationship between God and man, between each other and our relationship with the earth."
The event at Penn Dixie, a fossil quarry that draws nature enthusiasts from all over Western New York, will include Jarrett Steffen from Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and Dave McQuay from New York State Parks, both of whom will discuss effects to protect the water in the Western New York area. The Allegany service, with a rain date of May 2, will have presentations on water usage and a blessing of the Allegany River. Finally, students and faculty from Stella Niagara Education Park will be at the third event.
According to Sister Fran Gangloff, OSF, a member of the Care for Creation Committee and a facilitator of the Earth Day events, the events celebrating water are significant because Pope Francis spent a significant portion of his encyclical discussing it. She said while the encyclical came out a year ago, "it may well take years for all of us to absorb the teachings of this encyclical and put its many aspects into practice."
In addition to these events, Sister Sharon said the Care for Creation Committee has gone to diocesan schools to educate children about the importance of the encyclical and teachers on how to include its information in their curriculum. Sister Fran noted the first Earth Day took place in 1970, and since then, people around the world have planned and celebrated Earth Day in nearly 200 countries.
"What they plan educates, celebrates and appreciates what has been done so far to make our planet, our globe, and our universe more eco-friendly," Sister Fran said. "In solidarity with local and global efforts, the ways we gather to pray and take action on Earth Day offer hope for our young people and future generations that more and more people will care about the environment, the earth, the air, the water, the natural resources and the wonderful people that comprise our common home."
In his encyclical, Pope Francis said that access to safe, drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. He also lamented the fact that many people live in poverty with no clean water.
"Our world has a grave social debt toward the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity," Pope Francis said in the encyclical. "This debt can be partially paid by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world, but also in those developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partially an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behavior within a context of great inequality."
For more information contact Sister Sharon at 716-202-4706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.