Earth Day Offers Opportunity to Put Faith into Action

Today, April 22, is Earth Day. Earth Day was established 50 years ago as a way of drawing attention to the multiple crises of air, water, and land pollution and now provides opportunities for discovery, learning, and action. This year most of the action will be virtual. The Catholic Church is concerned about the environment as well. In 2015, Pope Francis wrote the encyclical Laudato si’ (Care for Our Common Home) – a discussion of the importance of protecting the earth for Catholics, and indeed for all persons of faith regardless of denomination. The earth is part of God’s creation and, as such, should be revered and protected. It nourishes and protects humanity and is vital to our existence; it is our home.

Care of the physical and biological systems of the earth is prayer and practice. The Diocese of St. Augustine established the Integral Ecology Committee to write a plan based on Laudato si’ to address how we, as a community, could put this care into action. Our work is making progress, although the full plan is not yet complete, and was interrupted by COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 has impacted the health of the earth. Human health is clearly under siege from the pandemic, but there have also been positive impacts. The worldwide response to the pandemic has been difficult, but it reveals the great things we are capable of out of loving concern for the health and wellbeing of our community. Our shelter-in-place, social distancing, quarantined selves are impacting Earth much less now than we did months ago during our normal hectic, commuting days. The effects of our slowed lives are seen in cleaner air and water. In just a little over a month, we have seen the impact.  So how do we keep the positives going, both while we are still in our homes, and after these restrictions are lifted? The Diocese of St. Augustine’s Integral Ecology Committee has several suggestions:

  1. Reflect on the role of beauty in our world.  Here is a reflection written by Dr. Jack Daniels, a member of the committee: https://culturaljesusblog.blogspot.com/2020/02/a-reflection-on-power-and-beauty-of.html
  2. Get outside and plant a garden – even if its in pots. This provides benefits, including getting out in the fresh air, a short trip to the nursery or home center (with appropriate social distancing), an activity for the family, potentially growing food, learning about the natural environment and growing things. Plants detoxify the air and beautify our surroundings.
  3. Reuse and repurpose items around the house. For example, 2-liter soda bottles can be cut, and the bottom section used as a small planter. Remember to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Build a bottle tree in the yard from colorful glass bottles for a bit of whimsy. Rather than dispose of plastic containers, use them to store leftovers or to help organize odds and ends around the house.
  4. Use the time to read Laudato si’ and the accompanying materials from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) – http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/environment/index.cfm
  5. Help us understand the opinions and concerns of the diocese by taking our survey  https://jacksonvilleu.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_41prFfOOWJuRGK1

The May/June issue of the St. Augustine magazine, due out May 1, will feature an in-depth look at the diocese’s response to the environmental crisis.

Let’s take the opportunity to do some good for our planet as well. With all best wishes for health, healing, and peace during this troubling time,

Lee Ann Clements, PhD
Chair, Integral Ecology Committee, Diocese of St. Augustine
Professor of Biology and Marine Science, Jacksonville University