In the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis emphasizes the moral responsibility of all individuals, institutions, and nations to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. He calls for a radical ecological conversion, urging us all to acknowledge the impact of human activities on the planet and to adopt lifestyles that prioritize ecological sustainability.
On the eighth anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’, we as a community choose to not only reflect and pray, but to take action now, when it is “urgent and necessary.” (LS 57)
“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” (LS 13).
Since October, our Dominican Sisters of Hope, along with associates, volunteers, and staff, have engaged in study and action to better care for our common home. From our homes to our parishes, our community has delved into the Adoption of Sustainable Lifestyles goal via the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The goal is grounded in the idea of sufficiency, and promoting sobriety in the use of resources and energy. Actions include reducing waste and recycling, adopting sustainable dietary habits (opting for a more plant-based diet and reducing meat consumption), greater use of public transport, active mobility (walking, cycling), and avoiding single use items (e.g. plastic, etc.).
According to Leeanna Varga, executive director of mission for the Dominican Sisters of Hope, the Laudato Si’ Action Platform is important “because it moves us to further action as individuals and as a community.”
“It’s easy to feel hopeless when we think about what’s happening to the planet and despair about the future, and just give up,” Varga wrote. “Our mission is about commitment to the transforming power of Hope. At this point we can’t prevent climate change, but we can still mitigate the impact. I’m inspired by the changes I see people making as individuals and by the conversations we’re having as a congregation and staff. I’m gaining new consciousness, which is leading me to new actions. I’m inspired by the process, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.”
Varga has accompanied the community in meetings to discuss changes and inspire action in one another. Some sisters committed to using shampoo bars and laundry strips to eliminate plastic waste from shampoo and detergent bottles. The maintenance team at The Center at Mariandale stopped mowing approximately half the land for May in order to protect pollinators as they come out of hibernation. The Guzman community of sisters shops with reusable produce bags and cooks meatless meals for one dinner each week.
According to Dominican Sister of Hope Beth McCormick, OP, who attended a weekly Laudato Si’ Circle with Varga, the issues highlighted in Laudato Si’ are “a major concern.”
“I would like the consciousness of people who are not aware of how dangerous this environmental disease is to be raised by whatever means possible. That’s the first step,” Sister Beth said. “Then, those who are already conscious of its seriousness need to do in their own place wherever they are whatever they can to make changes as Laudato Si’ suggests.”
Sister Beth said she’s been heartened by the initiatives of the community to “take as many small steps we can from different angles.”
“We don’t have to jump immediately to a total paradigm shift,” she added. “That has to happen. But we need to continue to take tiny steps, which will get bigger as we go along.”
Overall, Laudato Si’ serves as a powerful and influential document that has sparked global discussions and actions on environmental stewardship and the pursuit of sustainable development. As its message spreads, Hope is setting off on year two of the Laduato Si’ Action Platform.
“The problem is so big, we need everyone’s gifts and effort,” Varga said. “The world needs hope so we don’t give up and keep doing what we can do.”