Michael Downs

Five years later, the moment Michael Downs first felt excited about Laudato Si’ still stands out to the director of justice and kinship at an Oakland, California, high school in the U.S.

In 2015, shortly after Pope Francis’ encyclical was released, Downs remembers having a “visceral moment” while reading the world-changing book.

He remembers thinking, “Yes, Yes, here’s this rich language that brings science and spirituality together and has the gravitas of Church teaching.”

The lifelong Catholic was already worried about climate change, and now here were both topics in a book written by the leader of the Catholic Church.

“That just made me ecstatic and inspired,” Downs said.

Earlier this year, he wanted to further deepen his understanding of Laudato Si’ and find more ways to engage with his community.

Downs enrolled in Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Laudato Si’ Animator program.

Thousands of passionate people from six continents come together every few months for the free Laudato Si’ Animator training that is held in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Polish.

The Animators connect through Zoom calls and learn from world-leading experts on the root causes of climate change and how Laudato Si’ can help us bring about a better and more life-giving future.

Animators also connect through online conversations and can share their experiences through small group meetings.

“This breadth of geographical diversity was super cool, being on screen with someone from every continent,” Downs said.

“[The training] makes you engage the text, it makes you engage other people. I found it to be a source of hope.”

Every Animator finishes the free training with a final project in which they take action for creation in their community.

Downs used his final project to further educate his school’s students and faculty about Laudato Si’.

His project took place earlier this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced almost all U.S. schools to switch to online learning.

By email, Downs invited students and faculty to sign the Laudato Si’ Pledge in which signers pledge to answer Pope Francis’ urgent call in Laudato Si’ by doing the three following actions:

  • Pray for and with creation
  • Live more simply
  • Advocate to protect our common home

“I was hoping we’d get 125 to 150 people,” Downs said.

Despite having no in-person time with his students and colleagues, more than 200 people signed the pledge and committed themselves to answering Pope Francis’ call.

Some of the students and faculty also spelled out their intentions. 

“I plan to continue to reconnect with nature by spending more time outdoors,” one student wrote.

Other students said they planned to be more politically active through climate strikes and climate marches.

“Laudato Si’ has already borne fruit at our school,” Downs said, “and I am hopeful that it continues in deep and meaningful ways!”

Read more: How Downs and his high school celebrated Season of Creation