This year marks the five year publication anniversary of Laudato Si' - On Care for Our Common Home, an encyclical written by Pope Francis. In this letter, which you can read here in full, Pope Francis explains how exploitative political and economic systems impact the environment and economically disadvantaged communities. His connection of environmental and social justice was a clarifying call for people of faith to reassess how we work for justice: everything is connected and we cannot solve our environmental crises without solving social injustices. This was not only an important call for Roman Catholics but also for all people of faith committed to embodying justice in their communities.
Faith in Place has been connecting the dots between environmental care and justice for two decades. When the encyclical was first published, our Green Teams and diverse faith partners lifted up a multifaith chorus of amens to the Pope's clarion call. Our Executive Director, Rev. Brian Sauder, also shared at that time with the New York Times how critical it is to integrate care for the Earth with care for people in the article, For Faithful, Social Justice Goals Demand Action on Environment.
To honor this five year anniversary of Laudato Si', Faith in Place's Lake County Outreach Director and Green Team Coach, Celeste Flores, interviewed Louise Pryzwara who serves as the Team Leader for the Care for Creation Green Team at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Libertyville, IL. Read on to learn more about how the Care for Creation Green Team at St. Joseph's Parish cares for our "common home" and embodies Pope Francis's call in Laudato Si'.
Faith in Place celebrated the Creation Care Team's accomplishments
with a 2018 Green Team Award.
Celeste: Tell me about yourself, Louise...
Louise: I’m the leader of the St. Joseph’s Care for Creation Team. I joined this ministry over ten years ago because I value the Earth and natural resources. Over the years, the critical need to take climate action has become even more apparent. I think it is imperative that everyone does their part and being involved in this team helps me achieve that.
Celeste: What is your earliest memory of being in nature?
Louise: I remember my mother loved to garden and vacation meant going to Grandpa’s cottage in Wisconsin. He built the cottage and I have fond memories of spending my whole day outside in the northwoods surrounded by nature. Nature has always been a source of comfort and peace. I have been a birder for years. When I worked at Abbott, my escape came on the weekends. On Saturday morning, I would take walks in a preserve and look for birds.
Celeste: I did not know you were a birder! Can you tell me more about what the Care for Creation Team does?
Louise: We are living out Catholic teachings through an environmental lens. We focus on educating the congregation on individual and local action people can take. For example, we share weekly Green Tips in the bulletin. The tip can be a recommendation for individual action, such as where to recycle household chemicals, or can inform folks about local actions that can be taken, such as contacting a legislator about a particular bill. Over the course of our 11-year history, we have grown from a group largely focused within our parish to a group that is also working to influence our local leaders at the village level as well as state and national level.
A St. Joseph Creation Care Team member advocates for coal ash protections at Advocacy Day.
Celeste: What does a Green Tip look like during Covid-19?
Louise: We have shared suggestions folks can do like gardening and sharing their produce with our food pantry and we have shared prayers of Pope Francis regarding climate change and suggested reading and reflecting on Laudato Si’ while we are being asked to stay at home. It is essential that folks find hope during such uncertain times.
Celeste: What was your reaction when you found out the Pope was writing an encyclical that focused on the environment?
Louise: I was excited because I knew it would give me more ideas on how to talk about environmental work. I also knew I could use the encyclical to back up the work the Green Team is doing. It would no longer be just us saying it was important for people of faith to be active in taking action on climate. We would have a direct message from Pope Francis on why everyone needs to care for our environment.
Laudato Si' teaches how "care for our common home and care for humanity [is] connected."
Celeste: Pope Francis has many messages he conveys in Laudato Si'. What has stayed the most with you?
Louise: The way care for our common home and care for humanity was connected. How he was able to connect faith and science. Most of the time faith and science are pinned against each other but both are critical for climate action. He moved from giving background on climate change to actions that should be done not only personally but by communities and the government, beyond the individual. It really is going to take everyone to reduce the impact of climate change.
The Team hosted a One Earth Film Fest screening in 2020. The festival's theme, "The Power of We," highlighted how communities need to work together for resilient climate mitigation.
Celeste: I think it was a great reminder to think globally, act locally. Has the Care for Creation Team used Laudato Si'? If so, in what ways?
Louise: We have referred to parts of it to inspire and support our actions. We have also used it in writing Green Tips for folks to read what the pope wrote. It is a great resource to pray and think over, and it has inspired us to host several events that have served to educate and engage the community about local action.
Celeste: For someone who has read Laudato Si', what would be the one word or phrase you would want to share with folks who have not read it?
Louise: Hope. When you learn about climate issues, folks can feel paralyzed with fear. His message is one of hope.
Laudato Si' week is from May 16 to May 24th. Pope Francis and the Archdiocese of Chicago invite you to join a daily Zoom event in honor of the encyclical. For more information on caring for our common home, please click here.