Needed Winds of Change

Feb 1, 2023 | News & Events

By Sr. Joan Burke, SNDdeN

Pope Francis accepts gift from an indigenous person.

Remember our surprise at hearing the name of the person chosen to replace Pope John Paul II: Jorge de Bogolio! a prelate from Argentina! And again, shock/surprise in learning that a Jesuit had chosen the name Pope Francis after the Poverello of Assisi! Amazing details soon came to light: he had lived in an apartment, cooked his own meals, rode to work as an Archbishop in a commuter train! he spent his free time with people living in poverty of the barrios! Our imaginations were stretched…

The New York Times compared his first official letter The Joy of the Gospel (2013) to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech.” Pope Francis challenged his priests “to smell like their sheep” and compared the Church to “God’s field hospital for the sick and marginalized.” And then in 2015, he published another document that called his flock, and the whole world community to wake up to Care for our Common Home. While for some, the dramatically different style of Francis, preferring the title “Bishop of Rome” to Pope, signaled a radical shift that seemed all too much, especially for some highly placed ecclesiastical leaders. A few of them who even dared to suggest he was a heretic!

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and Laudato Si’

For SNDdeN, Francis’s style was reminiscent of that of St. Julie Billiart, our Foundress. When her sisters were on retreat, Julie became the house cook. She cautioned her sisters not to picture themselves going to heaven in a carriage; they were to walk! She herself, in her 50s and 60s, walked hundreds of miles visiting her sisters in Northern France and Belgium. While crisscrossing the countryside, and during rest stops, she wrote letters to her sisters, chiding them to be certain they had sufficient bread and wine (!) in their larders. She also urged them to delight in the wonders of nature all around them. Despite living surrounded by the violence of revolutionary France, the villagers described her as the “smiling Saint.”

No wonder Francis’s call to the entire Human Family to unite and engage with others in addressing climate change resonated with SNDs, as also their Associates, their students and Alumni. Like St. Julie, Francis in his letter, Care of our Common Home (its opening words in Latin, Laudato Si’ from the beginning of Francis of Assis’s Canticle of the Sun), invited us to be attentive to the “Cries of the Earth” and the “Cries of the Poor.”

A group of committed Christians soon culled from the document seven key agenda points:
1. Response to the cries of the Earth and those of the poor
2. Ecological economics
3. Sustainable lifestyles
4. Ecological education
5. Ecological spirituality
6. Community resilience
7. Empowerment

Pope Francis join Laudato Si’ young adults for a “Selfie.”

Climate justice challenges all sectors of the Church to make a seven-year commitment to address these goals across the various sectors: families, parishes and dioceses, schools and universities, businesses and farms, religious congregations, and hospitals and other health care facilities. SNDdeN were ready to respond. They had already made social justice a key dimension of all their ministries.

Laudato Si’ Action Platform

The Roman Office for Integral Human Development offered to facilitate action-oriented plans for participating entities and serve as a clearing house for resources. This became known as the Laudato Si’ Action Platform (LSAP). Across the congregation SNDdeN were eager to join with others to build an international grass-roots movement to address the urgency of the climate justice agenda. They recognize the commitment and leadership of the world’s youth who have become impatient, even exasperated, by the slow response of governments and corporate actors. To effect enduring change, it is crucial that everyone take dramatic steps recognizing the existential threat, and shouldering their responsibility for the problem and undertake needed solutions.

Sisters Joan Burke and Mary Johnson address student leaders at Ipswich, MA in June 22, 2022.

Action Plans for SNDdeN Provinces

The East-West Province in the US is developing a plan to focus their efforts on:
1. Education
2. Land use and exploitation
3. Adopting sustainable life-styles and practices

The Ohio Province already has fine-tuned their plan to focus on fossil fuels, clean water and plastics. The over-all aim is to develop a deeper understanding of our ecological responsibility and join others in ‘walking the talk’ and build a movement resulting in systemic change. Groups of NDdeN Associates have also organized educational sessions and demonstrated their own eagerness to commit themselves to the agenda of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform.

Climate change – like most of today’s challenges – is no respecter of arbitrary human borders. As the Covid-19 pandemic so tragically demonstrated, “No one is protected until all are protected.” During the last thirty years many political and corporate leaders chose to deny and turn a deaf ear to the warnings and mounting scientific evidence. They can no longer feign being deaf and dumb to excuse the consequences of their irresponsible inaction. All of us must join arms to live the change that is needed and pressure those maintaining the status quo to respond to the Cries of the Earth and the Cries of the Poor ~ of all peoples of this planet, our Common Home.