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By Susan Hines-Brigger

Earth Day: Caring for God's Creation


A Moral Issue
Doing Your Part for Creation
For Teens: The Great Cleanup
For Kids: Grow Your Own Flowers

April is one of my favorite months. In my part of the country, it's the month when the earth begins to wake up from winter. Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths burst through the ground; buds appear on trees and everything begins to turn green. It is also the month for Earth Day.

Celebrated on April 22, Earth Day was first observed in 1970 as a way for people to speak out against the harm being done to the earth, as well as to learn more about the environment and ways to care for it. Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, developed the idea based on the anti-Vietnam War protests, or "teach-ins," taking place on college campuses. The idea of a grassroots campaign to protest what was happening to the environment developed into the first Earth Day.

Care of the earth and all of God's creation has always been an integral part of the Catholic Church's message and teachings. In his 1990 World Day of Peace Message, Pope John Paul II addressed the issue of the environment, saying, "Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty toward nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith."

A Moral Issue

In that same message, the pope also called the environmental crisis a "moral issue." The U.S. bishops reemphasized that point five years later in their pastoral Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on the Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching.

"Our mistreatment of the natural world diminishes our own dignity and sacredness, not only because we are destroying resources that future generations of humans need, but because we are engaging in actions that contradict what it means to be human," the bishops said. "Our tradition calls us to protect the life and dignity of the human person, and it is increasingly clear that this task cannot be separated from the care and defense of all of creation."

The U.S. bishops have also joined with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the National Council of Churches of Christ and the Evangelical Environmental Network to form the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. The goal of the group, according to its Web site (, is to "provide inspiration, moral vision and commitment to social justice for all efforts to protect the natural world and human well-being within it."

Doing Your Part for Creation

There are many things that families can do to protect and praise the environment. As Pope John Paul II said in 1990, "While in some cases the damage already done may well be irreversible, in many other cases it can still be halted. It is necessary, however, that the entire human community—individuals, states and international bodies—take seriously the responsibility that is theirs."

Here are a few suggestions for ways you and your family can help:

Take care of your surroundings. This can be as simple as planting flowers in your yard and keeping it clear of trash, or organizing a block-wide cleanup.

Support recycling in your area. Instead of throwing out your newspapers, glass and plastic bottles, aluminum cans and other recyclable materials, check to see what recycling services are available in your area and take part.

Place a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in your garden. St. Francis is best known for his love of creation. Because of that love, in 1979, Pope John Paul II named St. Francis the patron saint of ecologists. You could also recite St. Francis' Canticle of Brother Sun for your dinnertime prayer. For more information on St. Francis' connection with ecology, visit www.americancatholic. org/features/francis.

Log on to the U.S. bishops' Environmental Justice Web site at www. The site is filled with ways in which your family, parish and community can take care of the environment.

Be aware of and take action on environmental issues on all levels—local, state and federal. If you and your family disagree with officials on a certain environmental issue, make your voices heard. Do likewise if you support their position/decision. If you feel strongly about an issue, participate as a family in an organized protest or rally.

Next Month: World Communications Day

For Teens: The Great Cleanup

There is nothing more disheartening to me than the sight of trash lying on the side of the road or in a park. Often when my family and I go for walks, we'll bring along a bag and collect some of the trash we see along the way. It's our way of doing our part to help keep nature beautiful.

What a difference picking up the trash can make in how an area looks! Gather a group of your friends or your youth group and volunteer to help clean up a particular area. You could volunteer to help clean up the yard of a neighbor or neighbors who can't do it for themselves. Contact your local park district/ city government to inquire about other areas where cleanup is needed, such as along a river or in a vacant lot.

For Kids: Grow Your Own Flowers

Want to grow your own flowers? All you need is an egg carton (cardboard, not Styrofoam), potting soil and some seeds.

Place some soil at the bottom of each of the compartments of the egg carton. On top of the soil place a couple of seeds. (You can ask at the garden store or nursery which seeds might work best.) Then cover them with a thin layer of soil. Place the egg carton in a sunny location, such as a window. (You may want to set the carton on top of some sort of waterproof tray.) With a squirt bottle, water the seeds just enough to keep the soil damp. When the seeds have sprouted and each plant has two leaves, take the carton outside and plant the whole thing in the ground. The egg carton will decompose and you'll have beautiful flowers to enjoy throughout the summer!

For more fun art ideas to celebrate Earth Day, visit KinderArt at




Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics or ideas you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at

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