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 (www.nrpe.org),
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 communityindividuals, states and international bodiestake 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.
Log on to the U.S. bishops' Environmental Justice Web
site at www. usccb.org/sdwp/ejp.
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 levelslocal, 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