Faith Formation Office exploring Laudato Si’ with six-week series

By Becky Aubut
Anchor Staff

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — “On Care for Our Common Home” (Laudato Si’) is the second encyclical from Pope Francis, and is addressed to “every person living on this planet” for an inclusive dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. Pope Francis calls the Church and the world to acknowledge the urgency of our environmental challenges and to join him in embarking on a new path. In it the pope critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, and laments environmental degradation and global warming. 

The pope states, “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; He never forsakes His loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home, which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: ‘Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s Creation.’ All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of Creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”

The Office of Faith Formation of the Diocese of Fall River sponsored a pilot program at the end of February, offering a six-week session to explore the encyclical, Laudato Si’ to be facilitated by Sister Frances Thomas, RSM.

“We had envisioned this [series] because it’s an important document that came out, and it would be helpful if we had a session on it because people could reflect on it,” said the director of the Faith Formation Office, Claire McManus. “The document is on the environment and ways we can change our perspective on the environment, and it’s right in line with the teachings of the Church. Care for the environment is one of the tenets of Catholic social teaching, and Fran is very well-versed in this. 

“When the encyclical came out, everyone was talking about it. It was even being critiqued in the secular press, and it had political ramifications; people were lining up [saying] we don’t have to listen to what the pope has to say about the environment, he’s not an expert. We felt that it was a service to the Church to have people study it, reflect on it, and go back to their parishes and be a resource.”

Sister Thomas said she was extremely happy that Pope Francis’ second encyclical focused on the environment, saying “it was a step in the right direction.”

“I’ve been involved in ecological issues for about 20 years, kind of on the side since I had other ministries,” said Sister Thomas. “It didn’t allow for a lot of opportunities, but now that the pope has spoken, people are starting to show interest and that’s good.”

Sister Thomas has been involved in Bible sharing sessions through the Office of Faith Formation, and used that format for her exploration of the Laudato Si’. She wanted to keep the group to 15 or less, and the current session has eight members that came primarily from her Bible sharing sessions. The six-week session fell into place as she realized that each session would focus on one of the six chapters of the encyclical.

“The focus is not on my teaching, the document speaks for itself,” said Sister Thomas. “It’s facilitating their encounter with it; their experience of Creation and the issues the pope focuses on.”

The introduction focused on St. Francis, and the group uses St. Francis’ “Canticle of Creation” as an opening prayer.

“We talked about St. Francis and what he meant to them, as an introduction,” said Sister Thomas. “The first chapter goes into the [current] conditions, which is kind of heavy. The issue of pollution, needing available clean water, and biodiversity — those three issues are prominent in that first chapter. People spoke about their concerns, their encounter with these issues, how it’s affected them, so it’s a discussion and reflection.”

Each participant reads the upcoming chapter at home from either their own printed copy or a copy Sister Thomas provides for a nominal cost. She likes to keep the session small, and encourages members to participate in each session from start to finish. Having a group stay with the same members helps build community “and I feel that’s important,” said Sister Thomas. “I know that each chapter is separate, but there’s something about being able to share openly with each other. What has been created in our Bible sharing, I can’t begin to explain how rich it is for those people who are free and able to share the depths of their faith and Spiritual life with each other because they trust each other.”

Each session has had lively discussion and are great, she added, saying that Laudato Si’ is about “head and heart.”

“There’s a line in there: ‘In order for there to be change, there has to be proper motivation and education,’” said Sister Thomas. “I see in that line that yes, we have to be educated about the issues and that’s important. We have to know what’s going on in the world, and what’s affecting climate change and pollution. 

“But there has to be motivation to change, and that comes from Spirituality. That comes from going inside and realizing our connection to all of Creation, to each other, and creating a passion about that, that is influenced by our education. There has to be both. This kind of a session is where I try to connect the head and the heart, that it isn’t all one.”

Sister Thomas also encouraged others to create a group within their own parish, and help spread the message of the pope.

“There are others who can do this; I’m no expert,” she said. “I’m just an educator who has a passion about this. I have read a lot and done some programs, but someone who has that same passion and understanding, and knows how to facilitate groups could do this. 

“I’m just really pleased I’m able to do this. I feel we’re really at the beginning stages and we need to move more rapidly. This does not just have to be for Catholics. This could very well be an ecumenical gathering. This encyclical is written for everyone living on the planet, that’s the way the pope says it. We don’t need to be just with Catholics, or even just Christians. We have a common home and common destiny here of trying to heal the wounds of earth, and to hear the cries of the poor and those who are wounded by these issues.”

Those interested in participating in a session on Laudato Si’, contact Rose Mary Saraiva at the Faith Formation Office at 508-678-2828.

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