By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — The Sisters of St. Francis earlier this month issued a Statement of Commitment to a seven-year plan of integral ecology to care for the earth and its inhabitants and to avert the climate crisis.
This commitment comes in response to Pope Francis’ appeal to join with Catholics across the globe to work collaboratively toward building a better world for generations to come. “We need a new ecological approach that can transform our way of dwelling in the world, our styles of life, our relationship with the resources of the earth and, in general, our way of looking at humanity and of living life,” Pope Francis said in a video message earlier this year.
Last year marked the fifth anniversary of his encyclical Laudato Si’. On the Feast of St. Francis, the Holy Father officially launched the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a seven-year initiative that the Clinton Franciscans have embraced. They will cover the seven focus areas identified by the pope: a response to the cry of the earth, a response to the cry of the poor, ecological economics, adoption of simple lifestyles, ecological education, ecological spirituality, community engagement and participatory action.
The community will meet Oct. 16 to discuss formation of a plan and to identify next steps. “We have a team working on the campaign and are looking forward to finding ways to collaborate with others,” said Laura Anderson, the community’s marketing director. “With the action plan, Pope Francis has pointed out the importance of integral ecology — not just about climate change, but everything interrelated.”
The action plan is a natural progression for the Clinton Franciscans, community members said. Anderson noted that Care of Creation has always been part of the Franciscan charism. “This was a way to make official the direction the congregation is going.”
In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, the sisters in 2015 unveiled a set of solar panels at The Canticle, which now supply nearly a third of its energy needs. The sisters have also taken personal steps to care for creation in recent years, such as eating more plant-based meals, using recycled paper and printing on both sides, replacing traditional light bulbs with LED light bulbs, composting, recycling and washing textiles in cold water, Anderson said. The sisters have long tended a vegetable garden that provides much of their produce for meals. “These are all important steps we can all do to reduce our carbon footprint.”
In 2019, the sisters took a Corporate Stand on Care of Creation, increasing their efforts to work for systemic change. Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis, said the community has also “taken stands which address the death penalty, nuclear disarmament, immigration reform, human trafficking, and basic human rights and income inequality — all of which are interrelated. We all have a role in ensuring that our global society is one that respects the dignity and interconnectedness of all created life.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic had made this type of advocacy more difficult, Anderson said the sisters are adapting and pressing forward. “They are always following current bills in Congress that promote alternative energy… and support a system and budget that will enable infrastructure to transport energy from the source to the people who need it.” The sisters contact elected officials to “let them know what we feel is important,” and work to educate others about these issues through a variety of media, including YouTube and letters to the editor. “There is a lot of misinformation out there.”
Sister Cebula hopes the community’s stance will encourage others to get involved. “In the spirit of hope, we invite everyone to join us in this exciting movement.”