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A message from the bishop

Caring for our common home (September 2015)
 
My dear friends,
 
Pope Francis captured the world’s attention when he released a papal encyclical entitled Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Released June 18, the document focuses on our role in the care and preservation of our earth. Laudato Si translated is “Praised be you,” one of the opening lines in St. Francis of Assisi’s simple yet poetic song of praise, Canticle of the Sun. Francis, who lived as one with all of creation, is the patron saint of ecology and the environment. Our Jesuit Holy Father chose the name Francis, whom he called “the man
of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” (Catholic News Service)
 
I first became aware of environmental concerns when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in June 1969, just after my 16th birthday. Actually this was the third time the river caught fire during the 20th century, but this fire made national headlines and gave my hometown of Cleveland a black eye. The river fire also
fueled positive changes, including the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, which finally helped clean up the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. While algae blooms occur in Lake Erie from time to time, today the water is blue. In the past 40 years, we’ve made a lot of good strides as a country, cleaning up everything from our cars and toxic waste sites to our power plants.
 
All of these changes started with individual conversion. Nearly a half century later, the Holy Father calls us to a similar new way of viewing things. To reform the world, we have to begin with ourselves. In
Laudato Si’, the pope asks us to work together and build what he refers to as our “common home.” He challenges us to choose what is good and not what is self-centered. If we want to treat the earth as a
sister with whom we share our lives, then we have to make a personal commitment to the vision Pope Francis challenges us to make our own.
 
As Americans, we need to do more. We are a relatively small share of the world’s population, yet consume a disproportionately large amount of the world’s resources. So it is incumbent on us to take the lead in caring for the world in which we live. As a developed country, we can create solutions to environmental challenges and do other things that many countries cannot. As individuals and families, our personal conversion can begin with small steps. Simply deciding to turn off lights or adjust the thermostat up or down requires a personal commitment that you can share with your whole family.
 
Many ask, “What does this have to do with religion?” Anything that affects human life is a moral question. How we treat all that God has created concerns people of faith. That’s why Pope Francis invited not only Catholics to read Laudato Si’, but others to reflect upon it as well. We all share life on this planet – and
responsibility for it.
 
Is protecting the environment a religious issue? Yes; but it’s also a political one. Politicians differ on how best to protect the environment. Government leaders can do a lot, but interest groups often have their ear. As citizens, we can be an effective interest group by giving voice to our convictions. If lawmakers
know that people favor reducing carbon pollution or having cleaner water, then they will pay attention to that. We need only look back to the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 to see an example of how public
opinion helped lawmakers to support the Clean Water Act of 1972.
 
We have a responsibility to the grandeur of God’s creation. We have to realize that we have a kinship with all created beings and with creation itself. We are not just related to other human beings; we are tied to everything that God has created. All things God made are good and each serves its turn. Pope Francis challenges us to look beyond our homes and neighborhoods and take steps to protect all aspects of the world in which we live.
 
In this first encyclical of his papacy, Pope Francis invites us to think differently and change our priorities. A link to Laudato Si’ is available on our diocesan website, dioceseofgrandrapids.org. I ask that you read it and pray about how you can change your life to better care for our common home.
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak