Nearly two months have passed since the release of Laudato Si’, and Pope Francis’ words continue to spark conversation, transform hearts and prompt action. Indeed, his words remind the Christian community: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si’, no. 217).
Our efforts to care for creation reflect our love for God and neighbor, and contribute to the common good, which is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more easily and more fully” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 26). Environmental problems are social problems, and “social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds” (Laudato Si’, no. 219). As individuals, our lifestyles and daily actions are significant and necessary, but as members of a community, we need to address environmental degradation at a broader scale to effect lasting change in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and country.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) responds to Pope Francis’ invitation to create a sustainable, integral ecology by empowering grassroots organizations that give a voice to low-income people and help them to help themselves. Since 2013, CCHD has invested over $3.2 million in community organizations whose efforts further environmental justice across the United States. In the Laudato Si’, the pope praises local groups that enrich society through promoting the common good and defending the environment in natural and urban landscapes (no. 232). These community organizations are critical because the most vulnerable suffer the worst effects of environmental and societal degradation.
The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) is an organization whose work illustrates the natural relationship between environmental stewardship and community building through local participation, inclusive decision-making processes, and leadership training. NWBCCC's multi-pronged green jobs campaign retrofits homes and churches, decreases energy bills, and creates local, green contracting and jobs. The 176th Street Community Garden adds beauty to the neighborhood, supports composting and recycling projects, and allows community members to interact, learn and recreate.
The United Workers Association stands out as another spotlight example of the power of local communities to advocate for sound environmental policies that help create an “ecological culture.” The organization successfully led a campaign to stop what would have been the nation’s largest trash burning incinerator from being built less than a mile away from two schools. Community members are now in dialogue with the city and other stakeholders to phase out the current incinerator and explore green alternatives.
How are you responding to Pope Francis’ call to be a protector of God’s handiwork? The pope reminds us that “we must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (no. 212). Is there a local community organization you can join (or even create) to promote the common good and build an integral ecology? To find a CCHD group, look on Poverty USA’s website. For more inspiration, read the Stories of Hope to learn of the good work being done by other CCHD funded organizations. And to start the conversation in your parish or local community, look at the discussion guide and other educational resources on the encyclical on the USCCB Environmental Justice Program website.
Anna Capizzi is an intern with the Environmental Justice Program at the USCCB. She is a graduate student studying moral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University. More stories about how Catholic communities around the United States, including parishes, dioceses, schools, and religious communities, are caring for creation, are available at WeAreSaltAndLight.org.