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Local Catholics practice environmental stewardship

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In "Laudato Si'," his encyclical on climate change issued June 18, Pope Francis cites St. Francis of Assisi's "The Canticle of the Creatures," a 13th-century hymn in which earth is likened to "a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us."

"This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her," Pope Francis writes. "We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life."

The letter calls upon the world to transform how climate change affects the poor and degrades God's creation.

"In some ways, (the papal encyclical) is nothing new and simply builds on Catholic social teaching," said Father Gerry Creedon, pastor of Holy Family Church in Dale City. "Climate change impacts people, but people also impact climate change."

But not everybody agrees.

Father Creedon received an email from one of his parishioners stating that by writing "Laudato Si'," "the pope's treading in dangerous waters."

"The minority share that view, but they are vocal," Father Creedon said. "They interpret reality as political or economic. Sometimes they are more influenced by their political party than the party of Jesus Christ."

Many local parishes make efforts toward environmental stewardship as described in "Laudato Si'," but securing funding and keeping volunteers involved is an ongoing struggle.

Paula Kane, who heads Holy Family's recycling program, manages three donation boxes for the parish. Two of these boxes are used to collect old clothes, while the third is used to collect old books and other media. The companies that own the boxes pay Holy Family by the pound and find new uses for the items locally and in developing countries.

Kane said that Holy Family once maintained a garden, but since the volunteer heading that project moved to Texas a year ago, the garden has been left untended.

Meanwhile, the garden at St. Ann School in Arlington is flourishing. Certified a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation, the garden is pesticide-free and features a rain barrel. It also includes a box that is part of the national Little Free Library program, which encourages St. Ann students to recycle old books.

Similarly, St. Ambrose School in Annandale uses crop rotation, irrigation and other sustainable technologies to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Thérèse Bermpohl, director of the diocesan Office for Family Life, said, "Parents can speak to their children of 'a Father who creates and who alone owns the world' ("Laudato Si'," p. 75). All things come from God to show His goodness. God then entered His created world and became man. In this light, children will see that creation can be used, but never abused."

Environmental efforts are even costlier at the diocesan scale. According to John Amarantides, facilities manager in the diocesan Office of Planning, Construction and Facilities, the cost associated with achieving state and national Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, certification requirements is "very difficult to meet." He said a well system alone can cost $800,000.

Amarantides, a civil engineer by training, said, "I can't very well go to a parish and say, 'You're going to be green this week.'"

He said that his office implements what green measures it can, project by project, depending on the budget. This can mean building an underground storage facility for rainfall or installing LEDs to cut down on electricity use.

Father Creedon believes the majority of local Catholics see the environment as the "responsibility of humanity" and that the encyclical will "start a conversation."

"I'm not a scientist, but I can read the tea leaves," he said.

Find out more

To read the full text of "Laudato Si'," go to bit.ly/EncyclicalPDF. To learn more about the diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, go to arlingtondiocese.org/peace/index.aspx.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015