A Community Approach to Caring for Creation

When Pope Francis talks about care for creation, he almost always pairs it with conversations of unity amongst humanity. In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, he makes strong statements about the necessity of Christians, theists, and all humans working together to care for our common home. Furthermore, since the encyclical’s release, Pope Francis has consistently modeled how creation care provides a common-ground initiative on which people of faith can and must collaborate.

In the fall of 2015, a few months after Laudato Si’s release, the Catholic Church officially joined the Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations in their tradition of a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1st, with a Season of Creation that extends from that day until the feast day of the patron of ecology, St. Francis of Assisi, on October 4th. This year, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued the first ever joint message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation.

The collaboration that Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew call for reaches beyond faith communities to include social, economic, political, and cultural spheres. “The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work towards sustainable and integral development,” say the faith leaders. “We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

During 2017, Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington invited the faithful of Vermont to celebrate a Year of Creation, an intentional, heightened focus on embracing the message of Laudato Si’. The initiative began with the convening of an interfaith and professionally diverse Year of Creation committee that would meet monthly to discuss, plan, and reflect upon events that would be welcoming and encouraging to all. Through these events and initiatives, the Diocese of Burlington collaborated with other community groups that are working toward a common goal of sustainability.

As we move forward from this year’s Season of Creation, consider ways that your church can engage with the local community in caring for the earth and all who call it home. Here are a few ideas of ways to get started:

1. Form a relationship with a public purpose energy service company.

The Diocese of Burlington works with Commons Energy to bring affordable energy efficiency audits and projects to diocesan buildings.

2. Connect with local faith and ecology organizations and affiliates.

Vermont Catholic communities are encouraged to apply for a matching grant from Vermont Interfaith Power and Light’s Katy Gerke Memorial Program to help fund energy efficiency audits and projects.

3. Learn from your solid waste management district.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District taught Vermont diocesan staff about what happens to something after it’s thrown in the trash and how properly disposing of materials saves time, money, resources, and the planet! Staff learned how to properly use the new compost bins around the office and the importance of reaching for re-useable options (metal silverware, ceramic coffee mugs, etc.), rather than disposable ones, to counteract “throwaway culture.”

4. Eat locally.

Local restaurants and bakeries supported the Diocese of Burlington’s efforts to highlight the impact that dietary choices have on the state of creation. By serving and promoting a combination of meat-free, dairy-free, locally-sourced, and organic options during presentations on the history of fasting in the Catholic faith and fasting for justice, the Church was able to support choosing local restaurants, bakeries, and farms as well.

Stephanie Clary is Manager of Mission Outreach and Communication at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.


Going Deeper!

See our WeAreSaltAndLight.org feature story on the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation. Use this handout to celebrate the Season of Creation, which continues through October 4.

 

6 Ways You Can Celebrate the Season of Creation

A fragment of the Earth with high relief, detailed surface, translucent ocean and atmosphere, illuminated by sunlightToday we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, a day established by Pope Francis in the Catholic Church two years ago. Many have begun to link this day with the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi—one of our most beloved models of caring for creation and the poor—to form a “Season of Creation.” In his message establishing this day of prayer, Pope Francis declared that “the ecological crisis . . . summons us to a profound spiritual conversion.”

These five weeks offer an important opportunity to deepen this aspect of our faith. Below are some ways to celebrate this time, both as individuals and as communities.

As individuals and families

Meal Prayer

Before and after meals, say a short prayer of thanksgiving for the life-giving food that sustains and nourishes us. Briefly consider how all nourishment ultimately comes from the earth, and for all the human hands that helped bring this food to your table. May we recognize, as Laudato Si’ has taught us, that this “moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life” (no. 227).

Counteract the “Throwaway Culture”

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis brings attention to our “throwaway culture,” which “quickly reduces things to rubbish” (no. 22). In your daily life, try to identify the ways in which you can choose reusables, rather than disposables, such as coffee mugs, reusable bags, or cloth napkins, and commit to making one change during this month.

Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession

In calling for a deep “ecological conversion,” Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of examining one’s own conscience, of recognizing one’s sins against creation, however great or small. Seeing the interconnectedness of our world leads to an understanding that “[e]very violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment” (Caritas in Veritate, no. 51). We invite you to bring these sins to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to perform a spiritual work of mercy for our common home, such as an act of “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si’, no. 214).

As a community

Bible Group Praying Together Holding Hands With Eyes ClosedEducational Program

Use the educational program “Befriend the Wolf” from the Catholic Climate Covenant to reflect on our vocation as stewards of creation. The program is designed to help your community contemplate the connections between all creatures under God our Creator. Visit bit.ly/CCC-BTF to access this resource.

Eucharistic Adoration

One of the most meaningful ways we give thanks as Christians is through the sacrament of the Eucharist, a word which means “thanksgiving.” As Laudato Si’ teaches, through “the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God” (no. 236). To celebrate this sacred reality during the Season of Creation, we recommend hosting a one-hour, care for creation-themed eucharistic adoration in your parish. Please visit bit.ly/PCJP-EA to access a resource created by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for this purpose.

Prayer Service

One final suggestion for this time is to organize a prayer service in your parish. The Catholic Climate Covenant has developed a four-part prayer service to be said after Mass each week. As we approach the beautiful autumn season, holding this service outside may allow for a rich experience. Please visit bit.ly/CCC-PS to access this resource.

This post was adapted from a resource developed by the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.


Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice page for resources for prayer, reflection, learning, and action during the Season of Creation—and beyond.

A Prophetic Call to “Wake up the world”

Ricardo in the cave where “Canticle of the Sun” was composed.

When I embarked on my “Laudato Si’” walking pilgrimage from Rome to Krakow last year, one of the highlights of the trip was Umbria in Italy. There, I followed in the footsteps of St. Francis and happened to stumble upon the cave where the saint of Assisi composed the famed “Canticle of the Sun.” As the sunlight broke into the dark cave and the birdsongs echoed in the forest I got a glimpse of why this Canticle was such an appropriate inspiration for our latest encyclical on ecology.

While you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can learn a lot about an encyclical from its title. Laudato Si’ means “Praised be” in Umbrian. Encyclicals are usually written and titled in Latin and there are very few exceptions in the millennial history of the Catholic Church.[1] If a Pope chooses a non-Latin title, he is doing so to make a point. At first there was some confusion about whether the title of Pope Francis’ encyclical was to be Laudato Sii (Latin), but the Pope explicitly chose “Laudato Si’ in the original Umbrian of St. Francis of Assisi. What is the point Pope Francis is trying to make with the Umbrian title?

First of all, the encyclical’s title is a reference to the “Canticle of the Sun,” by St. Francis of Assisi, who was also the inspiration for the Pope’s name. Picking a name is the first decision made by a new pontiff and it usually indicates his priorities. No pope has ever chosen to be called Francis before, and it has been over a millennium (since Pope Lando in 913) that a pope has chosen an original papal name. Therefore, by invoking St. Francis of Assisi in the title of the encyclical, Pope Francis is being true to what he believes he is about as pope. About his name he has said,That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” In a certain sense, the name Francis and these three characteristics outline the program of the Pope’s pontificate.

Laudato Si’ is intended to be read and understood by everyone. It opens, “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people.” Therefore, the language of the encyclical is simple and accessible. Pope Francis uses phrases like “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (porqueria)” (21). Just like Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” Laudato Si’ is filled with passages of lyrical and poetic beauty: “There is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face” (233). This is unusual language for an encyclical, and its style is distinctly colloquial, accessible, and down to earth. Laudato Si’ is something that anyone can read.

Indeed, it almost seems that everyone has read it. The encyclical was highly anticipated, praised, and criticized even before it was published. Upon its release, major media outlets including the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Economist, among many others, published multiple articles about it. Even the president of the United States and several world leaders made remarks about the encyclical. Of course, not everyone was happy with Laudato Si’. Some Catholics were expecting an air-tight doctrinal treatise on creation, while others thought of it as a political manifesto or climate policy white paper. The encyclical was none of these… which leads us to the final point, concerning the genre of the encyclical.

The title Laudato Si’ is somewhat ground breaking, or “edgy,” like the choice of Francis for a papal name. This “edginess” anticipates what I will call the “prophetic” genre of the encyclical. Laudato Si’ is Francis’ example of a prophetic “wake up” call in which he takes the side of “the poor and the powerless.”[2] One commentator picked up on this prophetic genre: “Francis has penned a cri de coeur… Like the prophet Ezekiel, Pope Francis sees perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy….” We must recognize the novelty of the style of this encyclical – it is not an “application of Catholic social doctrine to help us think in a disciplined way about how to respond to environmental threats,” but rather a prophetic and poetic appeal for change.

Austen Ivereigh, a Francis biographer familiar with the Pope’s language and style, came to the following conclusion, “The pope is almost saying: ‘You may not believe in God, but if you believe in ecology, you can’t ignore this.” Laudato Si’ invites people of all beliefs to stop, reflect and pay attention. Much like the legacy of the saint of Assisi who shook up the world in his time, the encyclical that bears his mark has had and continues to have its desired effect.

Ricardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

 

Going Deeper

Every year, for the Feast of St. Francis on October 4th, Catholic Climate Covenant produces a free catechetical resource to help faith communities explore how they can better care for creation and the poor. Get the resource.

[1] One of the most recent exceptions was Pope Pius XI’s prophetic ‘Mit brennender Sorge’ (With Burning Anxiety),  a denunciation of the ideas of the Third Reich, smuggled into Germany and read out from the pulpits of Catholic churches on Palm Sunday in 1937.

[2] Laudato Si’ was published during the Year of Consecrated Life, for which , Pope Francis called all consecrated persons ‘“to wake up the world” since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy’, and  ‘prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.’” See https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_lettera-ap_20141121_lettera-consacrati.html

Sowers of Change, Protagonists for Social Justice, and Bold Leaders of Action

Attendees cheer a statement about justice for immigrants Feb. 16 during a the opening program of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Midway through the U.S. Regional Meeting of World Popular Movements in Modesto, California, a strong wind came up which almost blew off the metal protections of the roof of the beautiful new gym where we were meeting at Central Catholic High School.

The force and the noise of the wind reflected the force and noise of the gathering of over 700 inter faith delegates of community organizations from around the United States, with some international representation also. The force was a powerful wind of strong voices calling for the popular movements to be sowers of change, protagonists for social justice, and bold leaders of action in bringing down the walls that divide the struggles against the systems that Pope Francis mentioned in his letter of greeting to the gathering.  The Pope wrote about being confronted by “a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., listens to a speaker Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. His diocese hosted the event. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Many voices then spoke from diverse perspectives but shared the urgency of being one people in one fight (one ‘witness’ as Cardinal Peter Turkson called it) “to rebuild society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives, and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.”  The noise was that of great enthusiasm for “disrupting oppression and dehumanization” as Bishop Robert McElroy, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and others spoke about and “rebuilding” systems that promote and protect justice in ownership of land, for working people, in housing, for immigrants, and in ending racism. One might wonder why the meeting was held in Modesto, California, and not some large city easily reachable by modern modes of transportation. The answer simply is that the planners felt that the great Central Valley in California provided a location that reflected the challenges being faced all over the country.

The Central Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world but struggles with issues of water, clean air, higher unemployment, lower wages, thousands of annual migrant farm workers, large percentages of immigrant peoples, human trafficking, homelessness, and a host of other social issues including violent gangs, hunger, school drop outs, etc.   But at the same time there are so many who live in the Central Valley who want to make life better for all who live and work there. The Regional Meeting received a warm welcome and recognition by those who knew about its purpose. What made this meeting different from other church or community gatherings?

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, poses for a photo Feb. 16 with Lira DeMoraes, a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Project in Massachussetts at the start of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.

It was the first time in the United States that community organizers from across the land were invited by the Church to come together so that the Church might hear from the people experiencing exclusion, dehumanization, and the pain of poverty.  Pope Francis had previously convened three World Meetings of Popular Movements. He spoke at all three about overcoming the globalization of indifference by “placing the economy at the service of peoples; working for peace and justice; and defending Mother Earth.” To this regional gathering in the United States the Pope sent a written greeting wishing that the “constructive energy” of this meeting “would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals…that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.” The Holy Father acknowledged with gratitude the sponsors of this gathering: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development; the host bishops from the three dioceses in the Central Valley; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and expressed his support of the popular movements.  What was different was that Catholic dioceses hosted and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of USCCB sponsored the meeting, which was organized and run by the popular movements under the leadership of the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network and other organizing networks. Pope Francis highlighted PICO’s work for promoting this meeting.

Although representatives of the Churches did speak and were well received, the Church leaders, including over 20 Catholic bishops, were there to listen and to accompany participants in the dialogues.  The message from the delegates at the end of the meeting was addressed to the popular movements and leaders in the United States and globally and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis. The message quoted Pope Francis and Catholic bishops extensively but also laid out the challenge, urging “our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people.” The message quoted Cardinal Tobin in his video address to the gathering that “faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid.” Pope Francis was indeed the inspiration for this gathering. Cardinal Turkson, by his presence and in his words, gave strong witness for the Church’s commitment to the integral development of the human person. Every human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and full human development gives glory to God.

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 Going Deeper

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides ongoing support for community groups that work to transform their communities. Visit our map to find out where this work is happening where you live—then get involved!

For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food

thanksgiving-1705784_1920Every November, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are grateful for food, the ability to feed our own families, and the need to ensure our entire human family has enough to eat.

Our holiday table reminds us of many other important tables: tables where families comes together to share a special meal; tables where our nation’s decision makers negotiate trade, aid, and public policies that affect us all; and, the most sacred of tables—the altar where the church gathers to be nourished by communion. Let us enter this month remembering that each table calls us to act with faith and hope.

November is the anniversary month of the pastoral letter “For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers,” first issued in 2003. The letter seeks to highlight the issues of food and agriculture and their connection to our faith.  The letter states, “We focus on how food and fiber are produced, how land is protected and how agriculture is structured, compensated, and regulated to serve the ‘common good.’”

The purpose of the bishop’s letter was to address the concern that food and agriculture are “little seen and less understood” by a post-industrial society living increasingly technological lives. It is true we are further removed from food and agriculture than ever before. Yet what we eat, who grows and harvests that food, and the state of the earth that produces these goods are the very things we need to consider as Christian disciples. It’s a valuable consideration this harvest month, and every month. More than a decade since it was first published, the bishop’s pastoral letter still serves as a poignant reminder that food and agriculture must be viewed from a deeply faith perspective.

November is also Native America Heritage month. Native Americans were once the most agriculturally prosperous group of people in the United States. Yet a snapshot of hunger and poverty today on reservations is nothing short of a banquet of scarcity.  Sixty percent of the counties with majority Native Americans face dangerously high food insecurity rates, according to Feeding America.  These statistics are a sobering reminder that many marginalized brothers and sisters are missing from our tables of plenty.

A broader overview of the state of hunger in our country reveals that 48 million Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table, and that 1 in 5 kids live at risk of hunger.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving won’t be a feast for everyone.

The bishop’s pastoral letter addresses the complexities of our food system but it is also a profoundly hopeful document. “We know these are not easy times, but as believers we have hope for the days ahead: We have the capacity to overcome hunger in our nation and around the world,” the letter said.

Through Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters campaigns, churches across the country advocate to end hunger by putting food and agriculture into focus. These annual policy advocacy campaigns remind us that God intended for all to be fed.

This Thanksgiving, let us remember that ending hunger in our lifetime will only be a reality if we act with faith and hope at all the sacred tables in our lives.

Krisanne VaillancourtKrisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the Senior Associate for National Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World.


Going Deeper!

Read about how parishes in the Archdiocese of New York are together advocating to end child hunger. You can hear more about this creative effort by participating in our live event on Dec. 20 at 2 p.m., which will feature this and other stories of acting together as communities of salt and light.

Prayers, Patrons and the Paris Agreement

Protesters carry a globe-shaped balloon in front of Rome's Colosseum during a Nov. 29 rally, the day before the start of the U.N. climate change conference in Paris. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters) See COP21-VATICAN-PAROLIN Dec. 1, 2015.

Protesters carry a globe-shaped balloon in front of Rome’s Colosseum during a Nov. 29 rally, the day before the start of the U.N. climate change conference in Paris. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

This year something special happened the day after the Feast of St. Francis, and one could even wonder if it had anything to do with the saint’s patronage. “This is a momentous occasion,” said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “What once seemed unthinkable, is now unstoppable.” On October 5, 2016, the so-called Paris Agreement, or COP21, was ratified. The Paris Agreement refers to negotiations between 195 countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions globally. The non-binding agreement establishes that nations must reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in order to keep global temperatures well below a two-degree Celsius increase in relation to pre-industrial levels. Once 55 countries representing over 55% of the worlds emissions signed the agreement, it would be ratified. That ratification threshold was reached on October 5, 2016, when the European Union signed the agreement. The agreement will now be implemented on November 4, one month after the Feast of St. Francis. But the story of the Catholic relationship to the Paris agreement is more than a happy coincidence of dates.

Days before the Paris meeting in December, 2015, Pope Francis said: “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all…Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day (Laudato Si’, 23 and 25) … In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.”

Pope Francis was a champion of the Paris meeting from the beginning and called on political leaders to rise to the challenge to reach a global agreement. The Italian minister of the environment, Gian Luca Galletti, affirmed the Paris agreement might not have happened without Pope Francis. In his own speech at the Paris meeting the minister reminded all members that the pope in “His encyclical letter Laudato Si’ has offered to us the highest moral contribution on the environmental question.” The pope shifted the conversation about climate change from economic, political, scientific, and legal issues into a broader moral and ethical debate, which allowed everyone to participate. This change in tone and substance made room for a global conversation, and also a global agreement, to which no one could be indifferent.

Christians can celebrate this important agreement as not only a sign of promise for reducing pollution and protecting the environment, but also as a sign of unity among nations, collaboration, and mutual understanding. However, this agreement is only one step on a long road. Pope Francis is also a practical man, and commenting on the Paris agreement he warns of the danger of much talk and little action: “I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements. Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, although they are certainly a necessary step toward solutions… we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective.”

In order to be “truly effective” in implementing the Paris agreement the task at hand is tremendous. The underlying assumption is that to be able to stay below a two-degree temperature increase what is necessary is that the world reach a net zero emission of carbon somewhere between 2050 and 2100. This simply means a complete overhaul of the global energy system as we know it. Cardinal Turkson, recognized as responsible for drafting Laudato Si’, is well aware of the consequences: “the global community has drawn a red line under a rise in global temperatures of two degrees Celsius. This is will require a complete shift away from fossil fuels toward renewables by about 2070. This is a momentous undertaking.” The pope himself mentioned that the Paris Agreement “represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency, and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content. We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development.”

Now it is up to each country, each region and legislature, and ultimately each person, to discern in their own realities how it is they are to contribute to this common cause. Politicians will have their hands full deliberating on how this “momentous task” is to be reached. Furthermore, we must remember that for the pope, the environmental goal of reducing carbon emissions is not a stand-alone cause, but must be integrated into other goals and oriented by higher principles. This “integral ecology” is the organizing logic of Laudato Si’ and articulates the Catholic Church’s support for environmental causes while always ensuring the well-being of people and respect for God himself. The efforts to address climate change must have the dignity of the human person, every person and the whole person, front and center. In Pope Francis’ own words:

“I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and “transformational” agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity… government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and all other civil rights… These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.”

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Ricardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.


Going Deeper

Learn ways you and your community can help care for Creation with these ten practical suggestions from the Diocese of Stockton.

Permanently Affordable Housing Transforms Lives and Communities

I have mixed feelings when I see new construction in residential neighborhoods. I’m a curious passerby and I like to watch the slow progress of the heavy equipment preparing the foundation and moving girders into place. I’m excited (and maybe a little envious) to envision families having an opportunity to be the first to live in a bright, clean place where everything works. Then I start to wonder if long-time residents were displaced for the new building. If so, where did they go? And how do they afford the rent? What happened to the community they built over many years?

Housing is one of the justice issues we address at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). On San Juan Island in northwest Washington State, as in so many areas, housing prices have skyrocketed in recent decades, squeezing low-income workers and others out of formerly affordable housing. Families who once relied on finding a decent place to rent on the scenic island were pushed out by owners eager to tap the new Airbnb and lucrative vacation rental markets instead. Older sale or rental properties were replaced with more expensive options. Even housing built as “affordable” re-sold at market prices when the first owners moved and original deed restrictions expired.

Enter San Juan Community Home Trust, a small local group that receives funds from CCHD. The trust shares our belief that homeownership is a transformational tool, especially for low-income people stressed by frequent moves. It enhances the sense of human dignity, self-worth, and stability for hard-working people.

San Juan Community Land Trust construction site where new affordable housing is being built.

San Juan Community Land Trust construction site where new affordable housing is being built.

The San Juan Community Home Trust helps individuals and families access permanently affordable housing that is innovative and sustainably “green.” The trust has developed two neighborhoods whose active, growing communities are living reflections of Catholic social teaching, including care for creation, responsible stewardship of the resources we’ve been given, and the moral imperative to reach out to the less fortunate.

a barge carries a large home across the sea

Homes from Vancouver, British Columbia being brought to San Juan island via barge.

The trust has built new homes and floated in sturdy early 20th-century houses once slated for demolition in nearby Vancouver, British Columbia. One of my associates who makes regular visits to the San Juan Community Home Trust neighborhoods says the new communities are a tangible expression of God’s love. She also marvels that the renovated old houses have unique features worth restoring and celebrating, much like the individuals who will call them home. By creating permanently affordable housing, the trust addresses income disparities, supports community structures, and helps people sink in deep roots to weather turbulent times. CCHD is proud to support the trust’s initiatives.

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Thank you, as always, for your prayers and support of CCHD. You are a crucial partner in our ceaseless mission to break the cycle of poverty.

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD and follow on Twitter @EndPovertyUSA.

Photos Courtesy of San Juan Community Home Trust


Learn more about San Juan Community Home Trust in the latest edition of the CCHD quarterly newsletter Helping People Help Themselves.

See other CCHD groups’ Stories of Hope on PovertyUSA.