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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyNew lenten vision

A recent Vatican conference addressed the issues of biodiversity and the unsustainable use of the earth’s resources. The world today is threatened more by overconsumption and unjust wealth distribution than by the number of people on the planet, it concluded.

The “final declaration” came at the end of a workshop on “Biological extinction: How to save the natural world on which we depend,” sponsored by the pontifical academies for sciences and social sciences.

Solutions to the problem, according to the final statement, were more about correcting unjust systems and selfish behaviours than population control.

While Lent has traditionally focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, it has also always included a wider scope of correcting unjust systems and selfish behaviours.

In his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis expanded the practice of virtue to caring for the environment. He writes: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

A new guide for parishes offers helpful suggestions to expand our horizons for doing lenten “penance.”

The 45-page guide, which draws from more than a dozen countries and cultures, offers practical ways to care for creation and respond to the pope’s call to action. The Eco-Parish Guide: Bringing Laudato Si’ to Life is a tool parishes can use to combat climate change — what Pope Francis refers to as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

It is divided into three main sections: initiatives to help parishes reduce emissions, suggestions for how to inspire and engage parishioners about environmental issues, and ways to practice solidarity and advocacy to serve the neediest and build up the common good.

It encourages parishes to form a Care for Creation Team to spearhead projects, to provide recommended resources, and to monitor a climate-action checklist. It also has a section on benchmarking — comparing energy performance of a church to buildings of comparable size and location — and certification.

St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, N.J., is one of three Catholic parishes illustrated in the guide.

St. Francis is noted for its certification through New Jersey-based GreenFaith, a national interfaith environmental coalition. The parish and school established non-toxic maintenance and cleaning practices; reduced energy, paper and water use; and became a National Wildlife Federation certified habitat.

They also incorporated Catholic social teaching on the environment into parish celebrations and engaged and informed parishioners on environmental justice.

While the certification process was ambitious, “every parish can do something to help the environment,” said Rob Goraieb, a secular Franciscan, who is co-ordinator of Franciscan Action and Advocacy at St. Francis of Assisi. “It’s about taking incremental steps; you do what you can,” he told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

Goraieb said he hopes his parish’s certification and other examples in the guide will “bring the big march for climate change into the pews — making it practical and tangible so that it grows into an effort of the heart, not the fist.

More importantly, the guide illustrates how climate change is directly related to poverty and other social justice issues.

The Eco-Parish Guide was created by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, a worldwide network of more than 300 Catholic organizations. It is available online at

It notes that many efforts to combat climate change can be implemented easily and for free. And some initiatives can save parishes as much as 20 per cent to 30 per cent in energy costs.

It’s a program worth investigating. And Lent provides a good excuse.