Kilkenny school teacher Sean Hickey looks at the message from Pope Francis and asks what we as individuals can do to assist in restoring the world around us
Kilkenny Military Barracks April 23rd 1922
The thirteenth day of March 2013 marked the beginning of a new Papacy, a new charism and a new journey for the Roman Catholic Church.
The newly elected Pope Francis began his papacy in a spirit of simplicity and empathy.
The choice of the name was a bold statement to the Church and the world that the life of the great Saint Francis was as relevant in contemporary times as it was eight hundred years before.
The Pope and the Saint both chose a new way,- a way that meant casting off the shackles of tradition and expectation that would allow them to live simpler lives, focussing on things of greater importance. Francis the Saint lived a life that was in harmonious union with God through his appreciation of creation and his vision of all that exists as part of a harmonious whole.
A DESIRE TO BE AT ONE WITH THE ENVIRONMENT
As human beings, there is a deep desire within us to live in communion with one another and with the environment within which we live. We must, therefore, make a deliberate choice to cast off the restraints that prevent us from entering fully into this communion.
The gift of wonder and awe, as given to each of us by the Holy Spirit, is alive deep within our being and we must allow this gift to manifest itself in nurturing, caring for and restoring God’s creation.
The question to be posed is what we as individuals can do to assist in caring for and restoring the world around us.
Saint Francis is the patron saint of the environment and he demonstrated a unique appreciation for all living creatures as well as the inanimate elements, understanding all as being created by God and working in unison to enable the world to function.
In his Canticle of the Creatures, Francis recites ‘praised be you my Lord, with all your creatures’ and he speaks of brother sun and sister moon.
He personifies all that has been created as brother and sister and, in so doing, comes to a deeper understanding of the importance of a relationship built on respect and care for all that exists.
It is appropriate indeed that Pope Francis entitled his 2015 Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ – praised be you.
Both the Saint and the Pope understand the essentiality of praising God through sincere care for His creation.
PROVIDING FOR HUMANITY IN THE FUTURE
The question to be posed is what we as individuals can do to assist in caring for and restoring the world around us so that it continues to provide for humanity into the future.
To begin, we must reflect upon and question our own individual existence, our way of life and the manner in which we contribute to the care of others and the care of the world around us.
As Christians, we believe that all we possess is a free gift from God. We must respect and cherish these gifts and share them equitably; we must utilise them in a sustainable fashion so as not to undermine the delicate, co-existent balance of the environment around us.
A balance must be struck between what we consume and what we give back in order to counteract the detrimental effect our consumption has, as individuals, on our planet.
We must once more become symbiotic creatures and not parasites that think of the now and leave the future to chance.
The Pope’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ addresses a broad range of topics and regards the world and its complex systems as a shared common good.
He delves into the problems we face as a result of pollution, the loss of biodiversity and accelerating climate change and the injurious effects these factors have on the quality of life for all human beings, not least those on the margins.
Having outlined the problems confronting us, the Encyclical offers a solution with the words: ‘many things have to change course, but it is we as human beings above all who need to change’.
Through reducing our consumption of unnecessary goods and reinvesting our energy into a lifestyle that is self-sufficient, or at least communally efficient, and by redirecting our energy into projects that contribute to the preservation and restoration of ‘mother earth’, we as individuals can change and improve the world’s prospects by doing our ‘small bit’ for the greater good.
There are various methods and means by which a contribution can be made at local level which would have consequences on a global scale if each local community participated in projects that seek to ‘balance the books’ between over-consumption and replenishing the environment within which we live.
KEEP KILKENNY BEAUTIFUL IS GOOD EXAMPLE
The local Tidy Towns Committee, Keep Kilkenny Beautiful, is a case in point and is currently undertaking a tree cover master plan for Kilkenny City.
This project is no small feat and will result in an integrated plan for the city that will see all passive areas of land within the urban core and suburban hinterland planted with trees.
Tree planting has many and varied benefits: through tree planting initiatives such as these, habitats are recreated or restored resulting in an increase in biodiversity and natural amenities.
Trees sequester carbon and thus contribute to averting climate change. They bring humanity closer to nature and thus closer to God.
Through the creation of habitats and natural landscapes and the planting of trees, hedges, and shrubs substantial benefits accrue to people in the area of health and wellbeing.
Exercising in areas rich in biodiversity and natural landscape promote positive mental health as people contemplate their surroundings and absorb the natural aesthetic.
FINDING SPIRITUAL BENEFITS IN NATURE
There are also benefits of a spiritual nature in pursuing such initiatives. The projects themselves allow people to engage in community activism and volunteerism, thus creating a sense of purpose and belonging to a community of like-minded individuals.
The resulting habitat creation appeals to each person’s attraction to beauty which is innate within the human person, combined with a renewed sense of wonder and awe for creation and the intrinsic relationship we as individuals have with our environment.
At present, the Tidy Towns Committee is in the planning phase of this project and planting commenced in the early part of 2022.
The Committee is currently engaged with various other stakeholders and voluntary groups in identifying suitable locations for the planting of saplings and standard trees.
The Committee is part-funding the purchase of standard trees for community-owned land and voluntary groups including church land, residential areas, schools, sports fields, and other areas where land is under-utilised or is passive in nature.
The breadth of this project creates potential for the individual to contribute positively to the fight against the degradation of the world around us through identifying potential areas to be planted, contributing toward financing the project, or the hands-on approach of the planting of the trees.
This year brought an enlightened and positive development as St Kieran’s College planted ten standard trees to maintain the beauty of the College Park for future generations, whilst also playing its part in following in the footsteps of Francis the Pope, and Francis the Saint. ‘The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that realities are greater than ideas’.
It is now time to act in averting any further damage to our planet and to restore it to its natural state in so far as possible, for actions speak louder than words.
(With thanks to Fr. Dermot Ryan from St Kieran’s college and to The Ossory Times magazine)