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

Encounter Dita

Tena is one of many children severely affected by the worst drought in 50 years, prolonged by El Nino. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for Catholic Relief Services.

Tena is one of many children severely affected by the worst drought in 50 years, prolonged by El Nino. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for Catholic Relief Services.

When we think of those goods the poor are stripped of daily, there are probably several key items that come to mind: food, water, and shelter, to name a few. We so often see countries rich in resources, and yet, the people of those countries live in poverty. How do we ensure that the wonders of the natural world are used in a sustainable, equitable way? Giving a man a fish, as the old adage goes, only solves the problem for the day.

Pope Francis says it best in his encyclical, Laudato Si’: “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Dita’s story of resilience and success in the face of a devastating drought in Ethiopia brings the pope’s quote to life. Dita, her husband and their seven children depend on the money they earn selling crops from their small farm in Ethiopia. But frequent droughts often mean that families like Dita’s who depend on home-grown crops go hungry. And amidst the current historic drought, more than 10 million people are struggling with hunger.

But thanks to a CRS program that helps families prepare for crises like droughts, Dita was able to build a new house and open a small store. Instead of relying solely on what she can grow on her farm, she is able to sell items like pasta, shampoo, and bananas. She earns a steady $400 a month.

“Before, I had to get eggs from my neighbors. Now I have 15 hens,” she proclaims. Saving money and being able to borrow not only allowed her to buy hens but also a metal roof for her new house, a rarity for families in this part of Ethiopia.

“Now we have no problems with food,” she says. Unlike families across Ethiopia that struggle to find enough to eat, Dita says her children eat three times a day, thanks to her newfound business knowledge.

And what’s more, all her children are attending school. “When I was a child, there were no education opportunities,” she says. Then, with a shy but proud smile, she adds, “That’s a big difference.”

The environment and the people that inhabit it are interconnected; all of God’s creation is one. God calls us to be stewards of the resources which we have been given, to look out for one another by sharing and collaborating, rather than grabbing up everything we can get now and worrying about others later. After all, teaching a man to fish will be of little value if we’ve left a polluted pond.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

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.

The Enchantment of Assisi

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Thirty years ago in Assisi, on October 27, 1986, Pope John Paul II sponsored a historic meeting among the world’s religious leaders to pray for peace. “On that day I heard the world’s heart-beat,” said a cardinal. To describe the historic event, the Polish Pope coined the term “spirit of Assisi” and the meetings with world religious leaders have been repeated by popes ever since.

Last week it was up to the Pope called Francis, who broke a one-thousand-year tradition in papal nomenclature to honor the saint of Assisi[1], to sponsor the event. The “spirit of Assisi” and its call for ecumenical unity was already evident in the ecological encyclical Laudato si’, named after a canticle pronounced by the Umbrian saint. Humility, simplicity, brotherhood, and care for the poor and for creation have all been hallmarks of the current papacy. In fact, a quick look at the ecclesial landscape of today gives the impression that St. Francis seems as relevant and revolutionary as he was eight hundred years ago when he walked through the forests of Umbria.

Speaking from personal experience, it almost feels like Francis is living and breathing in those forests to this day. This summer I walked the Via Francigena (Franciscan Way) from Rome to Assisi along the very same paths travelled by the saint. From the moment I encountered the first Franciscan shrine on the Via, the monastery called La Foresta (the forest), I felt like I had stepped into an enchanted world. At La Foresta one can kneel in the ancient chapel where Francis prayed and wind down into the cave where he composed the famous Canticle of the Sun, Laudato si’… This enchanted aura persisted for the next ten days as I weaved my way through olive groves and medieval villages all the way to La Verna in Tuscany, where St. Francis received the stigmata.

Perhaps I was so struck by this enchantment because of the contrast with the empty sterility of the world outside[2]. This sense of loss and indifference in the world was the point of Pope Francis’ prophetic address last week at the birthplace of his namesake: “God asks this of us, calling us to confront the great sickness of our time: indifference. It is a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervour, giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism: the paganism of indifference.”

St. Francis, with his life and witness, proposed an antidote to the malaise of indifference. As a young wealthy man, Francis of Assisi was “upset” with the opulence of his time and decided to live a life of simplicity. The Pope suggests that St. Francis associated the indifference to the suffering of the poor with the indifference shown to Jesus himself: it was the love of Christ who was being rejected. The Pope explained: “ ‘Love is not loved’; this reality, according to some accounts, is what upset Saint Francis of Assisi. For love of the suffering Lord, he was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly (cf. Fonti Francescane, no. 1413). This same reality must be in our hearts as we contemplate Christ Crucified, he who thirsts for love… Before Christ Crucified, ‘the power and wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:24), we Christians are called to contemplate the mystery of Love not loved and to pour out mercy upon the world.”

The key to the enchantment of Assisi is the love that comes from Christ crucified. This is the secret recipe to the grace that flowed from the man of Umbria and enchanted the world around him. Like St. Francis, we are called to do the same: “On the cross, the tree of life, evil was transformed into good; we too, as disciples of the Crucified One, are called to be ‘trees of life’ that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world.” We must be these “trees of life” in a dying world. But concretely, how can this be done?

Pope Francis gave a very specific answer earlier this month: “there is nothing that unites us to God more than an act of mercy…” In this same address which opened the Season of Creation[3] the Pope introduced a new item on the list of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. “So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home. As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a ‘grateful contemplation of God’s world’ (Laudato Si, 214) which ‘allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us’ (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires ‘simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness’ and ‘makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world’ (ibid., 230-31).”

If we want to become “trees of life” in this world, inhaling indifference and exhaling love, we need to unite ourselves to the “Tree of Life”, Jesus Christ.

The small quotidian gestures such as picking up trash, contemplating nature on an afternoon walk, recycling and reusing, enjoying the starlit sky and turning off unnecessary lights can unite us to the gentle reverence of Jesus Christ. This love in action can also lead us to greater awareness of the needs of others and acts of mercy and solidarity towards them.

Like a great Poinciana tree, composed of miniscule leaves that inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, these small acts of love can begin to breathe life into an indifferent world.


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

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice Program page.

Check out organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development working for environmental justice.

[1] The last Pope to choose a new papal name was Pope Lando in 913. I am excluding John Paul I who in 1978 chose to honor his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, by combining their names.

[2] The reflection on the disenchantment of modernity is not new, and in the background we can hear the voices of Schiller, Max Weber, Charles Taylor and others who explored the many reasons why life in our secularized modern world can feel stale and empty at times.

[3] The Season of Creation begins on September 1st and ends on October 4th, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

A prayer for creation

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Let me begin with a little known story about the Pope. When Pope Francis was a young priest in Argentina, he was appointed rector of the Jesuit seminary. One of the first things he did was to convert the seminary grounds into a farm where “students collected honey, milked cows, and cleaned out the pigsty [and] where they often met the rector in his plastic boots.” For young Fr. Bergoglio caring for the farm meant learning humility, being in touch with the poor, feeding the hungry, and finding an ideal space for prayer and contemplation – a place where the word of the Gospel became flesh. One could make the case that the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ and integral ecology were already taking shape in his farm experiment. The experiment worked: the seminary boomed and there was a huge increase in vocations.

The idea that Christian prayer must be connected to the created world is also central to Pope Francis’ message for the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”, whose one-year anniversary we celebrate today. Quoting Laudato si’ the Pope reminded us that “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature” and that Christians are called to a profound “spiritual conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Doesn’t this sound like something the Pope could be teaching the seminarians at the farm?

More important than the farm itself is the ideal that lies behind it, which has to do with the relationship between prayer and creation. I will call this ideal “prayer in the flesh”, taken from the title of a talk by Fr. Bergoglio. His point was that some Christians are unaware that they suffer from a modern heresy he calls ‘neodocetism’ and that we need to bring prayer to the level of concreteness, to the level of our bodies. We can pray when we touch the hands of a beggar, walk on trails, clean a pigsty, eat with the hungry, milk a cow, look at the sky, etc. Jesus is present in these moments when our flesh engages everyday reality. As in Bergoglio’s farm, care for creation can serve as a locus for us to live ‘a spirituality of the flesh.’

This summer I took this ideal of ‘prayer in the flesh’ and decided to put it into practice. I invited three young men and a guide to undertake a pioneer pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. In May we left from Rome on foot and walked to Krakow for World Youth Day on July 25th. We walked every day for two-plus months covering over 2000 km (about the distance from Washington, DC to Dallas, TX) along a ‘scenic route’ through Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. This pilgrimage was certainly an experience of prayer for creation: we prayed together and alone, during the day as we walked and stopped at shrines, during Mass and adoration. But we also prayed in creation: through the beauty of landscapes, incredible churches, and art– and prayed in the flesh: through blisters, injuries, weight loss, sores and muscles, and even the in gratitude for the incredible food.

What did I get out of this experience of ‘prayer in the flesh’? So many things which I cannot fit into a short blog post. But I can share one important lesson I learned: patience. You just have to learn patience on a trip like this because everything just takes so long! It would take about two days by car and two hours by airplane to cover the same distance we walked in two months. Impatience, resentment, complaints, weakness, stoicism, grumbling, and long faces don’t really get you any further any faster. All you can do is put on a good face in the morning and walk your ‘today’ until tomorrow comes. If it rains, you take a break. If it rains all day, you get wet. If you go without dinner, you try to get a big breakfast the next morning. You learn that God is in charge and He doesn’t always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need. And this… requires… patience. A long pilgrimage like this is a masterful lesson in patience that is learned because it is lived in the flesh.

The day I arrived in Krakow I gave a presentation about Laudato si’ and our pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. I was lucky to have a brief chat with a cardinal, and he asked me only one question: “So what did you learn about mercy?” After bumbling around for an answer a word came forth from the inside: “patience.” Mercy takes patience, the kind of patience of the father who is waiting, for years, for the prodigal son to arrive. “Merciful like the Father” is also “Patient like the Father” – not anxious or stressed waiting, but hopeful waiting. It’s not the impatience of the prodigal son, nor the resentful and fake patience of the older brother. These are not the rhythms of mercy.

This was the lesson I learned through my ‘prayer in the flesh’ and the one God had in store for me. But Jesus has many lessons in store for each one of us. And, we don’t have to go on long journeys to distant places to find them, but only look at the concrete world around us in the circumstances and places we live, and make a decision to do something incarnate with our prayer: celebrating a meal with friends, gardening, spending an evening in the park with the family, cleaning the garage, or going for a walk. These of course must be accompanied by encounters with Jesus Christ at Mass, adoration, confession, biblical reading, prayer groups, etc. But the Pope’s emphasis lies in the invitation for us to bring our prayer into the flesh.

For this second World Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation the Vatican suggests the following prayers. And the Season of Creation we begin today is a wonderful time for us to bring this prayer into our daily lives.

ricardo simmondsRicardo 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.

New skills helped me engage my community on Laudato Si’

Valeria Fuentes

Valeria Fuentes

Last week, the Social Action Summer Institute took place in Chicago.  Last summer, I received a grant as an alumnus of the CCHD internship program, to attend the 2015 institute, held in Portland, Oregon. It was an amazing experience which helped me to develop new knowledge of Catholic social teaching, and new skills in education and advocacy.

When I returned from SASI, I worked, under the guidance of CCHD in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to educate Latinos in Baltimore about Pope Francis’ encyclical on Laudato Si’, help them apply those teachings in their daily lives, and learn how they can advocate for environmental justice in their communities.

Because of these opportunities, I am now working on climate justice in Maryland with an organization that focuses on helping Latinos become more involved in environmental advocacy. I am working in my own Baltimore community to arrange informal house meetings and workshops called cafecitos, where Latino families and youth learn how to use their voices to protect and care for the environment. Through this work, I believe that I can help give a voice to those who often think they do not have a voice.

Valeria Fuentes is a former intern with CCHD and  Catholic Relief Services. She is a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she also works as student program manager for the Office of Diversity and Intercultural Development.


Going Deeper 

Find out more about the CCHD Intern Program, which has provided leadership and training for over 350 emerging leaders to date.