Members of religious congregations in England and Wales are being invited to a day of reflection on Laudato si' as a first step in the launch of a new ecology group. The Conference of Religious is organising three separate meetings around the country in the Spring in order to maximise the number of people who can take part, with attendees expected to start setting objectives on how they can use their buildings and resources to make changes. The gatherings will take place in Salford, the Midlands and London. Leading two of the days will be Sr Margaret Atkins OSA of Boarbank Hall in Cumbria who has written extensively on Laudato si' and who is personally involved in trying to effect change with her own congregation:
"We have so far been concentrating on basic improvements to our heating system (cleaning out, insulation and then next will be individual thermostats , tree planting (about 100 with the help of local schools - a Woodland Trust grant of baby trees for this), LED lighting for the Nursing Home, and eventually everywhere else," explains Sr Margaret. "What I realise is that with big old houses we won't ever have the energy ratings of a good new building, but if what we are looking for is improvement, we can do that dramatically with some very basic changes. We're also doing smaller things - planting insect-friendly plants, bird boxes, looking at the possibility of a pond and some insect hotels and the primary school are going to do a project identifying and producing a display about our trees and wildflowers."
Columban eco-theologian Fr Sean McDonagh will lead the London meeting and there will also be input from Steve Burrowes of the Laudato Si Centre in Salford diocese and John Paul de Quay of the 'Ecological Conversion Group' - a small group of Catholic volunteers who are based in Arundel and Brighton and Westminster dioceses and provide talks and workshops for parishes, youth groups, schools and conferences. John Paul de Quay firmly believes that the global reach of congregations gives Religious a unique perspective: "Congregations are placed all over the world, where they see the symptoms of our ecological crisis hitting the most innocent the hardest. Religious orders have the power to show the Church as a global family. Once we see others around the world as 'us' rather than the 'other' we will be more inclined to get involved. The ecological crisis is a global problem. Through twinning parishes in the UK with religious congregations abroad we can build these relationships in a process of mutual learning" he says. "Twinning will allow funding for reforestation and green energy cooperative projects abroad where the need is greatest, in combination with education on better energy use at home. This will have a radical impact, both environmentally and socially."
Croydon based Sister Shirley Aeria FMDM is already active in the Ecological Conversion Group and spends several days a week engaged in conservation in local woods: "Going into conservation ministry has entailed looking at my own lifestyle and not just paying lip service to a novel concept. This implies giving up a car and using public transport instead, being conscious of how I use electricity and water as well as reducing waste, avoiding the use of plastic materials, eating less meat; ecology and the love of creation are the warp and woof of my life as a Franciscan. If every single person on this planet could do their bit, we must live in hope that our 'common home' will be able to recover from the dire state it is in at present."
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