The title of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’” (“Praised Be”) is taken from a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, who was thanking God for “Brother Fire,” “Sister Moon” and “Mother Earth.”
While previous popes have written about ecology in the course of their encyclicals, “Laudato Si’” broadens the church’s viewpoint to embrace all creation. In doing so, Pope Francis acknowledges the magnitude of the ecological crisis and the urgency with which it must be faced, as well as the irreversible nature of ecological damage.
In celebration of that encyclical, the School Sisters of Notre Dame are hosting a 90-minute presentation titled, “A Catholic Response to Global Warming,” Tuesday, May 3, 6 p.m.
Presenter Steven J. Coleman, a Catholic educator from St. Dennis Parish, Madison, is a retired engineer, versed on the effects of climate change, Catholic Social Teaching and Pope Francis’ encyclical.
Employed for over 30 years for Thermo Electron Corporation and Thermo Affiliated
He told the Catholic Herald he’s always been fascinated by weather and became interested in climate change.
Home is carbon neutral
“We renovated our home in the Madison area and did it with the aspect of solar energy, renewable energy, and that got me involved from the technical end of things,” he said.
Coleman and his wife, Kathy, parents of five children, live on a farm in Marshall with their daughter, son-in-law and two of their six grandchildren. They grow much of their own food, raise chickens, lambs and pigs, and purchase what they can from area farmers. The solar panels on their home are the energy source for their home and car, a Nissan Leaf.
“We have had it for almost two years and it works well,” he said. “Our home is carbon neutral and now we are working on reducing carbon from our cars.”
Coleman made a New Year’s resolution in 2013 to become knowledgeable about climate change, articulate about it and see what he could do to make a difference.
“I realized how significant it was to me, and really to my grandchildren because the world they are inheriting will be much different than what I grew up in,” he said.
His studies included scientific data as well as what the U.S. bishops and Pope Benedict XVI had written, and what is contained in Catholic Social Teaching.
Bishops’ document somewhat prophetic
One of the more helpful resources Coleman found was a 2001, 12-page document, “Global Climate Change A Plea For Dialogue Prudence And The Common Good,” in which the U.S. bishops describe the need to respond to changes in climate.
The document suggested the idea of prudence and prudent judgment, “even if we are not fully sure on what the future holds on a topic, if there is enough information, and the consequences are significant enough, prudence tells us that we need to respond, even if we we don’t have total assurance.”
“It is a risk-reward in engineering terms, and if the risk becomes so great, we cannot ignore it,” explained Coleman.
In 2013, Coleman took a couple of college level courses online that focused on the climate, and he joined the Citizens Climate Lobby, a non-partisan, non-profit group whose charter is to develop the political will to provide a livable planet.
“They work on empowering you to talk to elected officials and to write letters to the editors, and if you are up to it, to make presentations to help others become informed on what is going on,” he said. “This gave me the courage to try it myself and with those tools, I figured one of the best places I could begin to speak was in the church.”
In 2014, Coleman presented, “A Catholic Response to Global Warming” twice in his parish and followed up his presentations with a three-week intensive study on the issues, providing participants with ideas on how they could act on their calling to care for God’s creation. The result of his efforts was the formation of a Care of Creation Team at St. Dennis.
Papal view is worldwide
According to Coleman, Pope Francis sees the world differently than Americans.
“He sees from the American bishops and the world viewpoint, and he goes and visits the poor and the poor are really suffering from climate change,” he said. “So much of the nourishment and livelihood from creation is being degraded and lives are being degraded. Because of his ability to get information from all over, it becomes clear that climate change needs to be addressed to minister to the poor.”
Coleman praised the pope’s choice of words in describing it as a moral issue and that the earth is our home, and we have to take care of it.
“I felt that this was just so insightful as to what is going on,” he said. “His love and his compassion for the poor is so strong and vibrant and so in front of ministry. He needs to speak for the poor in this condition and those with resources can shield themselves from climate change, but he is a spokesman for the poor.”
School Sister of Notre Dame Paul-Mary Draxler understands some are uninterested in climate change, or see no correlation with unusual weather patterns and global warming, but she has personal experience with adverse effects, having lived in the Marshall Islands for 10 years.
She described the growth of a native plant, taro, as stunted by rising sea levels.
“My friend has a home in Yap and the people on her island are suffering more due to the ground being saturated with sea salt. The country of Kiribati has already purchased land in Fiji, looking forward to the time when their land will be completely submerged,” she said.
“My concern is that, even when we do suffer, we will blame floods or drought, or those fleeing such problems, and make no connection to how we humans, especially ‘First World’ countries, are accelerating global warming.”
Sr. Paul-Mary heard of Coleman through a friend, who told her about his talks, his knowledge of the Catholic teaching and the science supporting the position.
“Since I am interested in climate change and the effect that it will have on most or all of my School Sisters of Notre Dame ministries, I thought my sisters would be interested, and while Steve is here, invite more people and fill the room,” she said. “My first hope is that people realize the seriousness of the situation, then individually, we can do many things and collectively, much more.”
Priests should educate parishioners on topic
Coleman hopes that by educating priests, they will be better prepared to address the topic with their parishioners. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climatic Covenant have homily aids on their websites to assist priests in leading the discussion.
Calling the encyclical “a very readable document,” Coleman continued, “Eventually, the priests need to be able to talk to the congregation and tell them that there is a real call to get a dialogue going. Pope Francis was so insistent on that…”
Coleman hopes to change minds.
“Just knowing there is a problem is not enough and future generations demand a response,” he said. “For those who do not acknowledge climate change, I have to say, ‘Can we go have a cup of coffee because you are not going to get this in a soundbite. Please, spend 45 minutes with me and let me tell you how I understand the problem and how I understand what is going on.’”