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How Does a Parish Get Started in Creation Care?

 As a Catholic Climate Ambassador with the Covenant since 2011, I’ve been involved in promoting the message of caring for our common home by giving talks throughout the Southwest.  However, what I’d like to share with you here is how my own parish got started in creation care, which involved a truly collective effort and the contributions of many people!   

Here’s our story: 

As a university professor, I had been teaching climate science for decades, so I deeply understood the serious implications of the climate change issue, but it was my FAITH that finally opened up new ways for me to do something about it!  After being inspired early on by the U.S. Bishops 1991 pastoral statement Renewing the Earth, and again by their 2001 statement on Global Climate Change, in 2008 I collaborated with other concerned parishioners to facilitate an 8-week “Just Matters” program on climate change in our parish. At the end of our final session, a question emerged: “How do we respond to this as a parish?” asked our pastor, Msgr Tom Cahalane. These were just the right words, spoken at the right time, to set the gears in motion that began our parish-wide efforts to “care for creation” at  Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Tucson, AZ.

 About the same time, at a breakfast meeting between Msgr Tom and parishioner Hank Krzysik, a related discussion took place. Hank had recently felt called to begin applying his skills as a LEED certified architect to aid faith communities by advising them on energy efficiency, having been inspired by reading Pope John Paul II’s 1990 World Day of Peace message: Peace With God The Creator, Peace With All Of Creation.

With our pastor’s encouragement, when Hank and I put our heads together, a vison for our parish program emerged and a small committee was formed with Hank as chair.  We wrote a proposal and our Care for Creation Initiative (CFCI) was officially approved by the Parish Council and launched at the end of 2008.  Here is our Vision Statement: 

 “We envision a parish that has been transformed into a prayerful, environmentally sensitive, and committed community that serves as loving stewards of the gift of God's Creation and advocates for sustainable practices that will protect God’s gift of Creation for all life that depends on it – especially the poor – and the future generations who will come after us”. 

From the start, our mantra was “baby steps,” and bit by bit we’ve been able to accomplish quite a lot in the past 9 years. Here are a few of the things that worked for us:    

  • Being grounded in scripture and the environmental documents of our popes and bishops was a catalyst that ignited our efforts at the beginning, and the importance of that cannot be overstated – especially now that we have Pope Francis and Laudato Si'! 
  • We’ve never called our group a “Green Team.”  As parish leaders, we were sensitive to the wide spectrum of political views and perspectives on climate change and environmental issues in our large community and wanted to keep the faith-based emphasis of our effort central, so we used “care for creation” in our title. 
  • We named our effort an “initiative” because we knew our ambitious vision would take time to unfold and would be an ongoing process. By continually reminding ourselves to be patient but persistent, a gradual roll out of changes has worked for our community.   
  •  In order to engage the parish beyond our committee, in our proposal we outlined an approach that involves all aspects of the parish (e.g., catechesis, building & maintenance, liturgy and worship, human and financial resources, Christian education formation, the parish school, etc.). This was also outlined in our mission statement:  “Our mission is to invite, stimulate, and sustain a "Care for Creation" conversion at multiple levels in the parish through prayer, worship, education, advocacy, and action. 
  •  Our CFCI committee (which has ranged from 5-10 members through the years) has been blessed with people offering unique contributions and expertise in a variety of areas: e.g., school teaching, adult education ministry, staff logistics, building and maintenance skills, and especially, ‘living green’ experience. This diversity has been a great strength.  
  • Early in the process, a modest environmental stewardship donation started us off (in anticipation of financial concerns over the cost of purchasing more environmentally friendly products for the parish).  It also helped promote our efforts by distributing “Care for Creation” reusable bags with our parish logo. 

What began with these small efforts – and many others like them -- grew into a collective effort that has slowly transformed our parish’s campus footprint and the parish community itself, most visibly with the installation of solar panel arrays on the church roof and parking lot in 2011.  Read about the installation here.   

 There’s much more to tell because it’s been a long journey -- and we still have a long way to go -- but on March 23rd of this year, we rejoiced when Our Mother of Sorrows Parish was honored for its good work by Arizona Interfaith Power & Light with the “SAGE Award” for “Spirited Activists Greening the Earth.”

 Inspired beginnings, a supportive pastor, lots of patience, energetic and gifted parishioners, and the grace of God can work wonders!    

This piece was written by Katie Hirschboeck, Ph.D. Dr. Hirschboeck is Associate Professor of Climatology, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. Dr. Hirschboeck sees the issue of climate change as one which concerns her vibrant Catholic Faith, commitment to Catholic Social Teaching and its Consistent Ethic of Life, and profession as a scientist. She is able to share both a scientific and theological understanding of climate change with the wider Catholic community.

 From The Canticle of the Sun

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
all praise is yours, all glory, honor, and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name

We praise you, Lord, for all your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, 
of you most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise and bless you, Lord, and give you thanks, 
and serve you in all humility.

Prayer excerpted from "The Canticle of the Sun" by St. Francis of Assisi, as found on CAFOD's Prayer Resources web page   


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