Hope on Earth Day

Together in our communities, Catholics can make a difference in protecting creation.

By Guest Blogger Kristen Hannum

Arranging my notes as I finish Our Lady of Waste Management on environmental stewardship in parishes, I'm overwhelmed by all the parishes I didn't call; by how many states have Interfaith Power & Light groups, which didn't get into this article at all; whether I should have put more emphasis on the Catholic social teaching of prudence, which the bishops and the pope return to again and again; how I was far over my word count before I even mentioned the Englewood, Florida, parish's good work on landscaping to save water; and–well, you get the picture.

The environmental stewardship that's being done at so many parishes reminds me of how individual Catholics, Catholic communities, missionary priests, and visionary bishops built their churches–and the American Church–in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When writing about those parishes (as a staff reporter for an archdiocesan newspaper), I was always struck by how little the pioneer builders had and how they had sacrificed to build the lovely churches, still filled with music and worship today.

We have so much in comparison. Or do we? How much of our stuff is compensation for what's been lost: so many wild mountains and prairies, plowed farms and orchards; and walkable cities of plazas and fountains leveled into strip malls and developments with adequate parking? In the developing world, it's acres of cardboard and tin shacks.

In How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill concludes, "Perhaps history is always divided into Romans and Catholics–or better, catholics. The Romans are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies, are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide. The twenty-first century, prophesized Malraux, will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilization is to be saved…it will not be by the Romans, but by the saints."

Sandra Bowen, at St. Gertrude Parish in Chicago, says there are moments of terror once you begin paying attention to the environment. I'd add that there are also moments of fury and hopelessness. Bowen's advice is to remember that you're not saving the world on your own. The solutions to global problems like climate change call us all to individual action–but also to push our elected officials and our church and corporate leaders to create the change that we cannot individually accomplish. Wind farms instead of mountaintop removal mining, for instance.

When I wrote stories about historic churches, today's parishioners always told me how proud and grateful they were for their ancestors' gift to them. If we can be saintly enough to manage to come together to save creation–and how can we not?–from ourselves, think how proud and grateful our great grandchildren will be.

I turn away from thinking about their scorn for us if we do not. The kindest among them will excuse us by saying, "Well, they didn't know."

That won't be true. We do know.

Guest blogger Kristen Hannum is a freelance journalist based in Denver, Colorado and author of Our Lady of Waste Management, which appeared in the April 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 4, pages 12-17).

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.