Representatives from parishes across the Diocese gathered on February 20 at Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish in Palo Alto, for a day of reflection on social justice issues highlighted by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si. Attendees heard from presenters on a range of topics from interreligious dialogue with Muslims to restoring harmony with humanity and creation.
Fumi Tosu, M. Div., from the San Jose Catholic Worker, gave an inspiring keynote address on mercy and how it is personal, lavish, and spontaneous. Quoting from Pope Francis’ letter Misericordiae Vultus, Tosu explained that mercy is a personal commitment because suffering is personal. Encountering suffering and letting it take root in your heart is the beginning of mercy. He said we need to “respond to the needs of those suffering from our heart with concrete action.” He noted that it is easy for us to outsource mercy by simply making a donation or volunteering once a week at the parish. Tosu challenged his audience to think about what they could on a personal level, directly connecting to people who are suffering within our midst.
Tosu explained that generosity that goes beyond what is expected of us is lavish mercy. Seven parishes within the the diocese that are housing the homeless “go beyond what is expected.” He invited his audience to consider providing a room for the homeless in a program sponsored by Catholic Worker. Their staff works with host families to make suitable placements on a temporary basis. Tosu asked, “Will those of us gathered here be a Church that sticks to conventional ways or will we be a Church that goes to the margins of society like Jesus?”
Afterwards, attendees had the opportunity to attend two of the six workshops offered. Deacon Steve Herrera discussed pursuing peace through education and interreligious engagement. He focused on developing a sense of mutual respect, understanding and engagement with the Muslim community through dialogue. Herrera, a religious studies teacher at Archbishop Mitty High School, emphasized that a better understanding of the Muslim faith through direct dialogue creates greater harmony and dispels misunderstanding and hatred.
Other sessions focused more on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common Home. Christine Vincent, Associate Director for the Office of Social Ministries, spoke on human dignity and life and the need to restore harmony. She focused her talk on the connection between the decline in care for the environment and the decline in respect for human dignity in life addressed by Pope Francis. Dr. Tony Strawa, representing the Diocese of San Jose Catholic Green Initiative, explored the concept of an integral ecology and how the social exploitation of people interacts with the degradation of the environment. He said that the current ecological crisis is a moral issue that requires a response from all Catholics to care for God’s gift of creation. Strawa, a NASA scientist and Catholic Climate Ambassador, gave statistical evidence of the declining environment and how globally millions of people are dying each year from air pollution and hundreds of millions of people do not have access to fresh drinking water. “Those least able to mitigate the situation, the poor, are most affected,” he said.
Two workshops focused specifically on what can be done to respond to Pope Francis’ encyclical. Stan Fitzgerald, a social justice activist, emphasized the need to read, share, and discuss the encyclical with others. He said that Pope Francis exhorts us to not only change our own lifestyle, but also advocate for God’s creation by writing petitions and letters to leaders on the local, state and national levels.
Representatives from two environmental groups, Suds Jain of the Citizens Climate Lobby and Stew Plock of 350 Silicon Valley, spoke of how faith communities can put Pope Francis’ words into action. This workshop offered practical ideas and methods for protecting “our common home.” Jain and Plock gave evidence of the latest data on environmental change science noting that January 2016 is the hottest on record in 135 years of data collection. Despite the recent snowfall in the California Sierra, the snowpack is still at a 500-year historic low. Most recently, California has been affected by the toxic red algae bloom, due to warming ocean temperatures, which prevented the annual crab harvest.
Jain pointed out you need to calculate your carbon footprint to understand how your own lifestyle is affecting the environment. The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Protection Agency offer ways to do that. Both presenters stressed that you need to advocate for positive environmental policies on the local, state and national levels – a point emphasized by Pope Francis in Laudato Si. Katia Reeves of the Catholic Green Initiative addressed how parishes can become better stewards of creation by starting “Care for Creation Teams.” At her own Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish, they installed solar panels saving thousands of dollars on electricity bills each year in addition to getting a refund from Palo Alto Utilities. Care for Creation Teams, working together with Facilities and Human Concern Committees, can make a huge impact in reducing carbon footprints and provide financial benefits to the parish. The Diocese of San Jose Catholic Green Initiative encourages everyone to take actions for sustainable stewardship in the “Care for Our Common Home.” Its purpose is to enable, inform and advocate environmental practices and policies in keeping with our faith and tradition of social and environmental justice.
For more information or to learn more about joining CGI, please contact Laura Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org.