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Ecological Education—Be the Spark

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Igniting the Desire to Care for Our Common Home

All of us are called to be good stewards of creation and to care for our common home, but many people don’t know where to begin. As Pope Francis tells us, “A great cultural, spiritual, and educational challenge stands before us ... ” (Laudato Siʹ 202). The magnitude of the ecological crisis demands an education that instructs on the issues but also inspires action. Ecological Education does just that by promoting “a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society, and our relationship with nature” (LS 215). Embracing this challenge, the Sisters of the Holy Cross are encouraging ecological awareness and action through school curricula, student clubs and other student leadership roles, project-based learning, and hands-on service activities with ministry partners around the world.

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, involved at your local parish, or just someone who is interested in the health of our planet —You can do this too! To foster ecological awareness and transformative action in yourself, kids or adults, here are Four Steps to Cultivating Ecological Citizenship with examples of how Holy Cross sisters are carrying them out across the globe.

Four Steps to Cultivating Ecological Citizenship

1. Learn About It: Gain Deeper Knowledge and Understanding

To be good stewards of creation, we must all spend time learning about the environmental crisis and its impact on future generations. Many of us know the three Rs of sustainability: reduce, reuse and recycle. But don’t stop there! The internet offers a sea of educational resources, articles, blogs, podcasts and picture books that can be used to gain deeper knowledge and understanding of the issues facing our planet. There is even a brand-new documentary on the environmental crisis and Laudato Siʹ that you can watch for free! The Sisters of the Holy Cross, serving in many areas with limited resources and inconsistent internet access, have creatively helped those around them learn about it! Using what’s available to them, the sisters provide opportunities for youth-led initiatives, community composting and garden development encouraging familiarity with the local ecosystem to provide deeper knowledge and understanding.

For example, at St. Andrew’s School in Jinja, Uganda, the sisters provided opportunities for students to learn about the environmental crisis through informational meetings, guest speakers, and other available resources. The school provides the space for students to share their observations on how the crisis is affecting their own country. School administrators then elected passionate student leaders to come up with engaging ideas for student activities to help them learn more. “These student leaders have become ambassadors to help those naïve to the crisis to wake up and learn about the present reality,” says Sister Nancy Rose Njeri Njoroge, CSC. From tree planting to skits, to poetry and more, the sisters and student ambassadors are drawing attention the environmental crisis by helping their community learn about it and increasing understanding of the importance of caring for our common home.

How will you learn about it?

2. Talk About It: Raise Awareness and Sensitivity

Once you have gained deeper knowledge and understanding of why and how we should care for our common home, raising awareness and sensitivity around the issue is essential. Simply talking about it with those around you is a great place to start. Whether it’s talking about food waste with your family and friends at the dinner table or discussing limiting paper usage and planting more trees with coworkers, there are so many ways to raise awareness and sensitivity. The Sisters of the Holy Cross across the world have focused on raising awareness by creating learning opportunities for those around them. Whether it’s utilizing alternative energies at ministry sites or sensitizing thousands of people to environmental degradation through radio programming, the sisters are actively sharing the message to increase awareness.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, Holy Cross sisters frequently host educational seminars for migrants in their community. They educate the attendees on a variety of topics to help them adjust to their new home but also ensure that the environmental crisis and caring for creation are a part of the learning taking place. The sisters talk about many environmental issues, from pollution to climate change, and dialogue with migrants about what they can do to help care for our common home. They find it very important to talk about it in all of their ministries to raise awareness and sensitivity.

How will you talk about it?

3. Foster an Attitude Change: Inspire a Conversion of the Heart

It’s important to not just educate and raise awareness, but also to foster an attitude of appreciation and concern in yourself and those around you. To inspire a conversion of the heart, you must answer: Why does this matter to me? And, why does this matter to them? When we affirm that we are a part of the natural world—not separate from it—we can understand the interconnectedness of all things. We can be grateful for God’s creation and our role in it,  and acknowledge our role in the environmental crisis. How we live individually impacts the whole, for better or for worse. The Holy Cross sisters’ commitment to foster an attitude change flows from the words of their founder, Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, “How we educate the mind will change with the times; how we cultivate the heart is and will remain timeless.” Their dedication to inspiring a conversion of the heart is present in all areas in which they serve.

For example, in Kensington, Maryland, at The Academy of the Holy Cross, the slogan “Living the Mission, Honoring the Legacy” in their main hallway references the impact of the many sisters who have worked there and inspires current students in their social justice work. Recently, Sister Taposi (Gomes), CSC, spoke to the first-year students about the work of the sisters around the world related to Laudato Siʹ. She also spoke with juniors and seniors in their environmental sustainability class about different ministries relating to their coursework. During their Day of Service in November, the academy students will help inspire themselves and other Holy Cross students around the world with a conversion of the heart through different service-learning projects related to environmental sustainability. The legacy of the Sisters of the Holy Cross is fostering an attitude change in today’s students as they collaborate in global service-learning projects.

How will you foster an attitude change?

4. Participate and Act: Be a Protector of God’s Handiwork

Once your attitude is enriched with appreciation and concern for our common home, the desire to participate and act as a protector of God’s handiwork comes alive. “Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment,” (LS 211). Finding meaningful opportunities for you and those around you to get involved is the final step in cultivating ecological citizenship. Aligning passions and talents is the key to finding meaningful ways to participate and act to care for our common home. It takes time to do the research and find organizations and events that spark your interest. But once you find like-minded individuals and opportunities you’ll be rewarded through the action! The Sisters of the Holy Cross have actively responded to the needs of their time through the protection of God’s handiwork. Whether by creating recycling initiatives like SOAR: Sisters Organizing and Advancing Recycling, or organizing tree planting initiatives with their ministries, the sisters constantly inspire others to participate and act.

In Brazil, for example, the Sisters of the Holy Cross defend and represent Indigenous people to enable them to participate and act to defend their homes. As an attorney, Sister Michael Mary (Nolan), CSC, serves on the Indigenous Missionary Council of the National Bishops Conference in Brazil. She represents Indigenous people who have been accused of crimes related to the struggle for land as well as Indigenous victims of land-related crimes. She also works with other groups of traditional populations on land and human rights questions. “It is important to emphasize the contribution of native peoples to the preservation of the forest and all its biodiversity,” Sister Michael Mary, CSC, says. “Defending the indigenous peoples of Brazil is defending a near future where there is still the opportunity to breathe clean air and drink clean water.” For the Indigenous people, the land holds no economic value but is regarded as sacred—a core belief that guides them to be protectors of God’s handiwork.