In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis paints a compelling picture of the people of God together rediscovering their mandate to care for God’s world. But how are we to put this noble calling into practice? Here are three suggestions at three different levels: the individual; the parish; and the diocese or denomination.
The meat we eat can have one of the biggest impacts on the world around us. Increasingly, much of it, including almost all of the pork and poultry in Ireland, comes from factory farming that is bad for animal welfare, human health and the rest of creation. Your typical Irish sow, for instance, will spend five weeks, twice a year, in a small crate just bigger than her body. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By choosing to eat less but better meat, especially free range and organic pork and poultry, and preferably direct from farmers rather than supermarkets, we can ensure that our meat consumption contributes to the stewardship of all creation.
But just changing our shopping habits isn’t enough to save the world. We need to come together in community and take action. And parishes are uniquely placed to contribute to this, having the facilities to host people, and often some land around their buildings. Using this space to set up and run a community garden would be an excellent way to bring people together in urban, suburban and rural areas. And don’t just invite people you know: invite those who look different, think different and talk different. And for those Religious Orders with larger amounts of land, why not consider using it to provide starter farms for would-be farmers who can’t access land?
There are some things, though, that need to be addressed at a level beyond the parish. Chief among these is the continuing investment by most of the Irish churches in fossil-fuels, particularly via their pension funds. This is despite the overwhelming ethical, economic and scientific evidence that most fossil-fuel reserves need to stay in the ground, and our money invested in the renewable energy revolution instead. Imagine if all of the Irish dioceses and denominations came together and profitably invested a small proportion of their collective assets in covering the roofs of Irish church buildings with solar panels? Call it ‘Ecclesial Energy’ or ‘Religious Renewables’ but what a statement of unity to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that would be!
These suggestions can certainly get us thinking and acting. But the final suggestion is the most important of all: let’s remember that the foremost reason why we care for creation is because the God who loves it all is reconciling to himself all that he has made (Colossians 1).
Gloria in excelsis Deo. This article was first published in the Irish Catholic Eco Eye Column, 19th May 2017.