By Nicholas Collura
Laudato Si’ Animator, co-founder of EcoPhilly
It’s a phrase we’ve probably said every week, or even every day, of our lives for literally the past decade: “Let’s Google it.”
So just as we turn to the internet whenever some fact or statistic eludes us in friendly conversation, that was my first impulse when I initially felt the call to participate in some kind of climate action or activism.
I put in “Catholicism” plus “climate change” plus “Philadelphia” and found… absolutely nothing.
I then looked up the archdiocesan website to see if there was a committee, initiative, or point person dedicated to this pressing existential issue. There was not, and it was a moment of clarity.
While the Catholic Church enjoys a centuries-long tradition of ecological spirituality teaching — beautifully articulated and impressively advanced by Pope Francis’s encyclical letter Laudato Si’ — my sense of urgency around the matter was not, truth be told, initially fueled by my faith.
I had read Naomi Klein’s magisterial work This Changes Everything, a compelling expose of both the horrors of the climate crisis and its connection to a host of other social justice concerns under late capitalism.
I was also moved by Joanna Macy’s sobering teaching on “active hope,” the idea that faith in our unraveling planet can only make sense if enough of us follow our convictions to action.
These dual inspirations, together with other political commitments of mine in the second half of the last decade, were enough to spur me to act.
But it took real reflection on my own personal vocation before I helped create an organization that is helping lead creation care efforts in Philadelphia, U.S.A.
I realized that my personal and professional backyard, as a former Jesuit and an interfaith healthcare chaplain, was the Catholic Church.
PODCAST: Listen to Nicholas Collura read this story on the Laudato Si’ Movement podcast
After completing the Laudato Si’ Movement’s Laudato Si’ Animators’ program, which culminates in the development of a climate project or action, a colleague and I drafted an open letter to our archbishop requesting that he establish a diocesan creation care initiative.
Even with more than 100 signatories, we weren’t sure we’d be successful. Diocesan budgets are tight and bishops are, even in the best of times, overwhelmed with responsibilities.
To our relief and gratitude, our archbishop blessed our effort, appointed us to lead this initiative, and gave us permission to work directly with his very helpful and supportive vicar general.
“I am grateful to this team for developing EcoPhilly,” Archbishop Pérez later said. “Please engage with these efforts to care for God’s creation. We all share a personal and societal duty to heed the Holy Father’s call.”
WATCH: Laudato Si’ Animator Nicholas Collura shares the story of EcoPhilly
Of course, it’s not that simple. It’s a lot of time and work to create something new, much less to inspire action, and the diocese does not have the financial resources to remunerate us for the amount of time and work we’ve put into this project.
On the other hand, we keep meeting people who are enthusiastic to do their part. We have been amazed to see how much desire there is for meaningful climate action among the faithful. And as Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!” (LS 71)
Participating institutions with EcoPhilly
Our ultimate goal at EcoPhilly is for every Catholic parish, school, and institution in the diocese to have some sort of creation care initiative underway. In this sense, we are not producing much content so much as organizing and networking other people’s incredible resources and ingenuity.
We hope that by addressing the climate crisis on this institutional level, the message will spread in two directions: individuals in each of these faith communities will be regularly reminded of the importance of this cause, and, if enough green teams come on board, diocesan leadership will be inspired to make this issue their own – perhaps to the extent of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, USA, which has committed to going solar at a scale that can only be done with bold leadership.
Since we began, we’ve inspired numerous individuals and groups to take their voices to Catholic media, gather creation teams, engage in tree-planting initiatives, network with others, introduce sustainability and eco-spiritual retreats, and more.
And we’ve really only just begun. We’re not naïve about how much work there is to do, but we believe that a lot can happen as long as everyone does just a little.
To that end, we would love to dialogue with others who wish to start a similar initiative in their own communities or have resources, stories, or best practices to share from their own experience. We can even Google each other!
“The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion” (LS 219).