Today, on the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, we welcome Laudate Deum, the Holy Father’s ‘Apostolic Exhortation’ which is his follow-up to Laudato Si’. The full text is available here: https://www.humandevelopment.va/en/news/2023/laudate-deum-apostolic-exhortation-of-pope-francis.html
Bishop John Arnold of Salford is England and Wales’ lead bishop for the Environment and has spoken of the ever-increasing urgency of action which Pope Francis calls for in this new landmark document. Laudate Deum has been eagerly anticipated by many, none more so than Environmental Leads from dioceses across England and Wales as they went on retreat during the final week of the 2023 Season of Creation. This was the Group’s first ever ‘in person’ meeting since being founded in 2021 at the request of Bishop John Arnold. Each diocese has its own Environmental Lead, collaborating with the rest of the Group to share information, initiatives and inspiration from their dioceses’ sustainability ‘journeys’.
The location for the meetings and retreat on 27 and 28 September was the beautiful setting of the Franciscan Centre at Ladywell, near Godalming in Surrey: an original 1911 Arts & Crafts house developed into a self-supporting convent and farm in 1956 by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood.
Nine dioceses from across the country were represented by their Environmental Leads – both curia staff and volunteers – including representatives from Journey to 2030, Caritas, Justice & Peace, Property, and Communications. The retreat was led by the Group Co-chairs, Edward de Quay from the Laudato Si’ Research Institute and Siân Thomas-Cullinan, Director of Caritas Diocese of Brentwood. Attending Evening and Morning Prayer in Ladywell’s ‘Creation Chapel’ which had been specially decorated with symbols of the 2023 Season of Creation theme ‘Let Justice and Peace Flow like a Mighty River’ (Amos 5:24), Siân led the Group in worship.
On the first evening, a very enlightening presentation was given by Jack Edwards, the Environment Officer for the Anglican Diocese of Southwark. It was interesting to hear some statistics from the CofE which are likely to be similar in the Catholic Church. For example, in terms of carbon impact, vicarages represent approximately 20%, parishes 30%, boards of education 50%, with cathedrals around just 0.2%.
There are some differences – most notably the Church of England’s Commissioners’ access to funds amounting to £190million to support the transition towards Net Zero over the next ten years. These funds will allow Net Zero Officers to be put in place, their more technical roles complementing the existing Diocesan Environmental Officers, who are the equivalents of the Catholic Dioceses’ Environmental Leads, and similarly generally unfunded. Of many shared similarities, the biggest challenges within both denominations involve on the one hand a lack of engagement in certain communities and on the other, a reticence amongst extremely engaged church communities in communicating what they are already doing.
John Paul de Quay of the Ecological Conversion Group (visit the ECG’s excellent Journey to 2030 website for downloadable Parish Resources) led a ‘Let us Dream’ activity to brainstorm ideas which might enable even more support for dioceses’ environmental efforts, keeping God at the centre of all we do and responding to the ‘Cry of the Earth and of the Poor’, so that by 2030 we will have vibrant and sustainable Catholic communities. Each of the delegates from the Catholic Dioceses of Arundel & Brighton, Brentwood, Clifton, Hexham & Newcastle, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Northampton, Southwark and Westminster contributed many ideas, some of which will be rolled out over the coming months.
All felt supported in their shared joys and challenges and after Sr Shirley’s guided tour of the sustainable Franciscan Centre buildings and Ladywell’s surrounding grounds, gardens and lake, the retreat drew to a close.
In addition to studying Laudate Deum, another ‘good read’ suggested at the Diocesan Environmental Leads meeting was: What we think about when we try not to think about global warming: towards a new psychology of climate change.
Your Diocesan Environmental Leads for the Diocese of Leeds are Rowan Morton-Gledhill and John Moran; they can be contacted via email@example.com