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September 14, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 23

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photo: Bishop Francis DiLorenzo joins a panel of experts to discuss Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, at Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk on August 25. (Photo by Vy Barto)

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo joins a panel of experts to discuss Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, at Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk on August 25. (Photo by Vy Barto)

Climate change said ‘global ecological crisis’

In response to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, representatives from the Church, military, scientific and local communities engaged in a symposium on “How St. Francis’ Encyclical Speaks to Tidewater’s Looming Environmental Crisis” at Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk Aug. 25.

Sponsored jointly by the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Diocese of Richmond Office of Social Ministry, the Catholic Climate Covenant (CCC) and Sacred Heart Parish, the symposium was held in reaction to the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise Be) which calls for dialogue and action addressing global environmental change.“ It is a topic that is important for all of us because it touches all of us regardless of whether you are rich or poor, whether you are in one ideological place or another,” Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo said in his opening remarks.

Approximately 230 people attended the symposium, making the crowd about twice its expected size, said CCC Associate Director, Lonnie Ellis.

In his presentation, Dr. William Dinges, an Ordinary Professor of Religious Studies in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, said that rather than just calling for “a nice conversation” about the environment, the encyclical has a sense of urgency for people to work together on the “global ecological crisis.” Bishop DiLorenzo, asserting that “we are in this soup together,” emphasized that science and religion are not in conflict with each other. Rather, the role of scientists is to evaluate environmental changes and interpret the data so “people of good will” and thoe involved in religion can “formulate an ethical, religiously moral response to the scientific findings” thereby protecting “God’s handiwork.” Vicki Fawcett-Adams, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament in Harrisonburg, found that message “refreshing.”

A retired K-12 science teacher, Ms. Fawcett-Adams is currently in a number of science and environmental organizations. She plans to share the information she gleaned from the symposium with her parish, and she hopes to lead her church in participating in the annual CCC initiative Feast of St. Francis which uses dialogues, tools and media to educate on climate change. Tom Breitbeil, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Newport News, said the symposium gave him hope that the dialogues “won’t be a lot of talk” but will spur “some action.” He intends to review the encyclical again and to write to politicians about the issue.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, the founding director of the Center of the Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University, cited rising temperatures worldwide, the “catastrophic” loss of Arctic sea ice, increased flooding, and weather-related insurance claims as evidence that the world is experiencing climate change. “Really the bottom line is that climate change is about people. It’s not (about) polar bears. It’s not just an environmental issue,” Rear Adm. Titley said. “This is a people issue, a people issue in all its facets, and one of those facets is an intensely moral and ethical component, and I think the pope addresses that in his recent encyclical.”

In his presentation, Sacred Heart Parishioner Andrew Presby described how climate change has affected him. He explained that a hurricane in 2009 and another in 2011 caused sea levels to rise and the Elizabeth River to flood his home to a depth of about eight inches.

He said the water had trash and sediment from the river and sewage.

Both floods resulted in extensive renovation including raising his house, stripping much of the drywall, disposing of appliances and refinishing furniture. Noting that he had sufficient finances and federal insurance grants to cover the renovation, he acknowledged that many people are not so fortunate.

“The poor of the world who live near the ocean are going to have a much harder time dealing with this,” he said. Dan Misleh, the founding CCC executive director, said Church leaders are already responding to environmental concerns. For example, Iowa bishops have challenged presidential candidates to provide their solutions to climate change; and the Archdiocese of Chicago is measuring energy and water use in its 2,700 buildings.

In addition to calling upon dioceses and parishes to participate in the annual Feast of St. Francis program, the CCC is encouraging parishes to form Creation Care Teams to do activities centered on the encyclical and is also developing a 14-week Catholic educational program for small groups within parishes.

Bishop DiLorenzo advocated that parishes use adult formation, religious education and campus ministries to educate individuals on the scientific and religious implications of climate change.Retired Navy Capt. Ray Toll, director for Coastal Resilience Research at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, is the primary facilitator in developing a whole of government/community approach to regional planning addressing sea-level rise. It involves 16 federal programs and agencies in the region, including the Department of Defense, local government and agencies as well as professionals such as attorneys. “Citizen engagement” is needed as well, he said.

Mr. Misleh encouraged the audience to act promptly and to do so “with joy and with the hope that is part of our faith because in the end, God uses our hands, our hearts and our heads to make this happen, and we need to make a better world for everyone.”

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