By Trish Sandbach, Commission member

On Jan 20th about 25 Parishioners from 4 Parishes (Our Lady of Kirkstall, St John Fisher & St Thomas More, St John Vianney, and St Benedict’s) gathered at St Benedict’s, Garforth. All the parishes either have the Live Simply Award, some for many years, or have started on the journey towards it. The purpose was to meet and share ideas for action, not merely in terms of achieving or keeping the award, but because one of the demands of our Christian lives is to care for God’s Creation, the Earth, our common home. Pope Francis has spelt out so clearly that doing this is not an optional extra but a constituent part of being a Catholic Christian – and we recall that Vatican II made a similar declaration with respect to working for justice.

Live Simply Workshop logoThe day began with a brief resume from each of the parishes, giving us all some ideas about what had already been achieved and what the hopes for the future are. A range of very practical activities emerged such as putting solar panels on churches and houses, insulating churches, LED lights and timers for energy and water usage. Most of the parishes were involving children in growing vegetables or flowers that attract pollinators or in making insect homes, bird boxes or even a hedgehog hotel. CAFOD campaigns, appeals and Fast Days are also well supported, as is the SVP with food and other essentials. Supporting refugees and asylum seekers also formed a common theme across the parishes. For some, the passage of time and Covid restrictions meant that a need for renewal was evident in order to actively re-engage with parishioners.

Laudato Si’ makes it very clear that we all need to undergo an ecological conversion. If our patterns of consumption continue as they are and there is no change in our lifestyles and mindset, the planet’s poor will grow poorer, eco-systems will be further disrupted, weather extremes will worsen and much hardship will ensue. Lent offers an opportunity, both spiritually and in practical terms, to focus on a change of heart, a conversion that will open our minds and hearts to the “cry of the poor and the cry of creation”.

In mixed parish groups, participants then addressed three questions.

  1. What are you planning to do for this Lent?
  2. How do we raise awareness about justice issues with regard to the elections?
  3. How do you approach tackling climate justice and global and local Poverty?

Discussion was lively and generated a wide variety of ideas. However, a few key themes emerged. The first was the need for formation and reflection so that theology, spirituality and liturgy become foundational to our actions. In living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor, in fighting for the planet and against poverty, we should not simply be activists but followers of Christ. A few sessions on Catholic social teaching might be one of the activities that we can offer our parishioners during Lent. It is after all one of the foundation stones of our work for justice.

Secondly, we must be courageous in speaking truth to power. We should try to build a relationship with our MP, so that we can meet and respectfully challenge current policy and practice to repair the brokenness of our planetary system. Most CO2 is emitted, and most environmental damage is inflicted, not by us directly, but on our behalf and largely outside of our individual control. As churches and other faith organisations, we need to find ways to respond to this.

If we care about creation, then we need to believe, as Pope Francis says, that human beings can change. He obviously believes in the power of the Holy Spirit, and so should we! We recognise that the global South suffers far more from the effects of climate change, than we do, but they are least responsible for it. Therein lies a massive injustice that we must address. At the same time in the UK poverty is growing as the cost of living is rising. People who just about managed before can no longer do so and are forced to use food banks and often cannot avoid going into debt. Organisations such as Citizens and Church Action Against Poverty are working to raise awareness and seek structural change as well as addressing urgent needs.

Liz Taylor, from St.Benedict’s parish commented: “It was a splendid day: so many enthusiastic, knowledgeable and committed people dedicated to wanting to make a positive change and to support their parishes to do the same. I came away with renewed vigour and determination to re-commit to Live Simply, Sustainably and in Solidarity with those who are poor.”