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Laudate Deum, Pope Francis’ Reminder And Exhortation To Us All

JaVon Hansknecht had been the Director of Justice and Peace at St. Francis for only about three months when Laudate Deum, the apostolic exhortation and follow-up to Laudato Si’, was released by Pope Francis in October 2023. JaVon mentions he is “a fan of the horror genre,” and he finds Laudate Deum horrifying in scope that all of humanity, not just Catholics but all of us, are falling short in our response to the challenges of climate change. The Pope explains that we will see environmental shifts in our lifetime, and the effects of climate change are not just a vague threat but a genuine concern. At the core of Laudate Deum, he gives us the framework in caring for creation to work towards as people of faith, and Pope Francis praises the possibility of change and the fact that there is indeed a sense of hope.

What is a person of faith, and, in particular, the people of St. Francis who have a history and culture of environmental concern, to do in response to the Papal exhortation? “I think we have the same call as other Catholics, or any ‘faith seeker,’ but our parish faith community has emphasized this Care for Creation idea,” says JaVon. “We have adopted this as one of our key pillars, and our call may be ‘self-determined’ because we have chosen to put it at the top of our list.”  He says our call is not unique at St. Francis, but environmental stewardship has been an integral focus in our history.

To this point, JaVon emphasizes that his predecessor as Director, Trevor Thompson, laid the groundwork with others at St. Francis for a Laudato Si’ parish plan. Around 2022, this plan offered various pathways that we, as a parish, can do to effect beneficial changes. JaVon and our new coordinator of Justice and Peace, Casey Slock, will include the involved parish ministries in looking at this ‘action plan’ to assess where we are and then decide where we should be moving forward. “A lot of this has to do with collaboration,” says JaVon, “we don’t need to recreate the wheel. There are a lot of different organizations working on this that we can partner with, and we have done so in the past.” A few of these organizations include North Carolina Catholics Caring for our Common Home (NCCCCH), a new ministry in the Diocese of Raleigh coordinated by Deacon Josh Klickman, tasked to help area Catholics become better stewards of the earth and to care for all God’s creatures. This ministry is reaching out to everyone in the diocese. The Interfaith Creation Care of the Triangle (ICCT) and Citizens Climate Lobby are others involved with education and awareness. “Education is key, and we can’t expect parishioners and mission leaders to make a change if they don’t have the tools,” said JaVon. “We are looking to create partnerships and initiate many of these educational pieces to make parishioners aware and then move into the advocacy realm,” he added. 

Building off the parish Laudato Si’ action plan while working closely with the Care for Creation Ministry and Pam James as coordinator, the idea is to move back out in the community and build up after COVID shut things down. This effort means we will be refocusing on Laudato Si’s themes and seeing if we want to focus on a specific area or areas. The focus is on ecological education in the next 12-18 months to make resources available to Parish. We will have a mixture of internal education and events to educate ministry leaders on how their ministries could help the education effort. We will eventually move to speakers for the parish and the larger community. JaVon emphasizes, “We want to make sure we have a firm foundation among our ministries, as well as involve the larger community in that education process.”

Part of this effort, according to JaVon, is also recognizing all that has already been accomplished at St. Francis and how forward-thinking this community has been. In his 6-7 months here at St. Francis, knowing that there’s a Laudato Si’ action plan, he realizes that one of the beautiful things we can do is ‘add’ even more to what was already accomplished. “We should highlight our successes,” JaVon underscores, “and we have accomplished a lot. Pushing forward the parish’s accomplishments is important; it lets our community know we have been working for a long time on this issue, and our tradition is to continue being stewards.” We have a Care for Creation team who is always working towards initiatives in ecological concerns; our Community Garden is a centerpiece of caring for our little part of creation as well as providing fresh food to those in need; we have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program; our buildings have solar panels, bottle fillers, and our campus has bird houses and incredible biodiversity, and we are looking to restart the campus composting effort at the Parish and TFS. We support these efforts through our current educational efforts to have outside speakers, including our pastor and priests, regularly comment on the importance of caring for our world. JaVon adds that as Catholics, this dovetails nicely with Catholic Social Teaching and our Just Faith programs. 

As the Parish Mission states, “Inspired by our patron Francis of Assisi, we seek to proclaim the reign of God by growing in Holiness through our experience of Christ in word, sacrament, and one another; offering Hope to those who hunger for human dignity and extending Hospitality to all.” What better way to live our mission than to share Francis’ concern for the natural world, express our concern for one another by assuring our shared home is cared for, and ensure that his people have dignity by insisting they have access to food, resources, and safe and stable environments?

Author: Mike Watson