April 24, 2015

Call to stewardship includes care for creation, archbishop says

Sharon Horvath, right, a science teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis and a member of that parish’s Creation Care Ministry, shares ideas on March 28 with Domoni Rouse, who is interested in starting a green ministry at St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis. They were standing steps away from the chapel housed inside Marian University’s Evans Center for Health Sciences, which recently received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification in recognition of its environmentally friendly design. All of the wood furniture in the chapel was constructed from the black walnut trees that once stood on the site. (Photo © Denis Ryan Kelly Jr.)

Sharon Horvath, right, a science teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis and a member of that parish’s Creation Care Ministry, shares ideas on March 28 with Domoni Rouse, who is interested in starting a green ministry at St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis. They were standing steps away from the chapel housed inside Marian University’s Evans Center for Health Sciences, which recently received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification in recognition of its environmentally friendly design. All of the wood furniture in the chapel was constructed from the black walnut trees that once stood on the site. (Photo © Denis Ryan Kelly Jr.)

By Victoria Arthur (Special to The Criterion)

As Pope Francis prepares to draw the world’s attention to environmental issues in an upcoming encyclical letter, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin says that care for creation is “integral to all we are called to do and be as Catholics.”

Speaking recently at Marian University in Indianapolis, the archbishop offered his own definition of stewardship—one that places caring for the environment alongside the usual elements of offering time, talent and treasure in response to God’s gifts.

“Stewardship is what I do, with what I have, when I believe in God,” he said at the Stewardship of Creation breakfast on March 28 at the university’s Evans Center for Health Sciences.

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment is expected to be released later this spring or summer. Archbishop Tobin noted that previous popes have spoken and written on the topic, most recently and notably St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict, in fact, was dubbed the “green pope” for efforts that included having solar panels installed at the Vatican.

However, this will mark the first time that an encyclical—reserved for issues deemed of the highest priority—has been dedicated to the topic. As such, the document will carry “considerable weight,” Archbishop Tobin said. The archbishop also acknowledged how politically charged the topic of the environment can be, especially on the issue of climate change. He said the encyclical is sparking debate even ahead of its publication.

“A great tragedy of our time is that practically nothing can be discussed without it being filtered through the lens of politics that quickly reduces to ‘us-versus-them’ sound bites,” he said. “In particular, when the subject is climate change, too often people are branded as either alarmists or deniers.”

While much is unknown about the specifics of the encyclical, the archbishop said it will undoubtedly include a special focus on the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. Pope Francis signaled his priorities for his papacy when he took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, known for his love for the poor and for all of creation.

Archbishop Tobin pointed to numerous examples of how the poor throughout the world suffer the most from environmental concerns. In the United States, he said, power plants are often located near the poorest neighborhoods. In Haiti, the most destitute country in the Western Hemisphere, less than 1 percent of the island remains forested and topsoil is almost nonexistent.

“Stewardship of creation is also a call for justice,” the archbishop said. “And this call should demonstrate a preference for the poor and the most vulnerable, who are affected the most by this crisis even though they did the least to create the problem and have the fewest resources to adapt.

“For people of faith, this environmental crisis is more than just a scientific or technological problem,” he continued. “It is a moral problem—a fundamental priority that must be addressed now and not given to our children or grandchildren to resolve.”

The archbishop’s remarks were welcomed by audience members who have been working for years to ensure that the environment is a core concern for the Catholic Church.

“We are trying to get more Catholic parishes to see it as a social justice issue, to see it as an issue of faith,” said Sharon Horvath, a member of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Creation Care Ministry in Indianapolis, one of the co-sponsors of the event. She said that the coming encyclical “poises us and puts us on the brink of spreading the word—taking what the pope says and translating it into action.

“Words are not enough,” she added. “We have to live our faith.”

As a science teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas School, Horvath has been doing just that, instilling environmentally conscious habits in her students beginning in kindergarten. At the school, recycling and composting are a way of life, bird feeders abound, and students help maintain flower and vegetable gardens. For these and other efforts, St. Thomas Aquinas was named a 2014 Department of Education Green Ribbon School.

Horvath’s husband, Andy Pike, is head of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Creation Care Ministry, which was founded in 2007 and collaborates closely with the school. He said that all a parish needs to implement similar programs is “a core group of passionate people.”

More than a dozen parishes were represented at the event, according to Jack Hill, chairman of the Care for Creation Committee at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. In addition, members of environmental groups encompassing multiple faiths were on hand.

Hill, for example, is state secretary for Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light (H-IPL), which assists congregations of many faiths in forming green teams, promoting energy efficiency in their places of worship, and advocating for public policy issues. Horvath is on the steering committee of Indianapolis Green Congregations, an affiliate of H-IPL.

The event also drew interested individuals from other local churches. Jerry Zimmerman, a member of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Carmel, said he appreciated the archbishop’s perspective and believes that a spirit of ecumenism is key to making a difference on this issue.

“The more people who are talking, the greater the conversation becomes—and the louder,” said Zimmerman, a beekeeper and retired biology professor.

Pike agreed, and said he was encouraged by the spirit of those attending the breakfast.

“The morning exceeded my expectations,” he said. “We had more enthusiasm in the audience than I could have hoped for, and I was really heartened by the archbishop’s remarks.”
 

(Victoria Arthur is a freelance writer and a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!