Heeding the call for dialogue

William Patenaude

I’ve noticed more and more Catholic websites and businesses noting that they’re loyal to the pope and all the councils of the church.

I suppose this is because of late, so many splinter …

I’ve noticed more and more Catholic websites and businesses noting that they’re loyal to the pope and all the councils of the church.

I suppose this is because of late, so many splinter groups have broken communion with Holy Mother Church over one teaching or one council or another. In an age where “cafeteria Catholicism” infects both ideological extremes of the right and left, it never hurts to let people know that you’re on board with the captain of the ship.

I thought of this when reading Light of the World, the newest installment of the Peter Seewald interviews with Joseph Ratzinger, now His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. In a chapter called “The Global Catastrophe,” Seewald asks the Holy Father about ecological issues, most especially climate change. The pontiff answers not with science, but morality.

“There is more or less pronounced awareness of a global responsibility for it; that ethics must no longer refer merely to one’s own group or one’s own nation, but rather must keep the earth and all people in view . . . the question is therefore: How can the great moral will, which everybody affirms and everyone invokes, become a personal decision? . . . this is a challenge for the church. She not only has a major responsibility; she is, I would say, often the only hope. For she is so close to people’s consciences that she can move them to particular acts of self-denial and can inculcate basic attitudes in souls.”

The Holy Father notes that a central issue of ecological health is the choices we must make “to do without.” As with many of Benedict XVI’s writings, encyclicals and homilies, here we find the current Successor of Peter worried about the harm humankind is causing God’s creation; he sees it as a very real evil that at the same time is a sign of humanity’s inclination to isolating, self-centered and gluttonous ways of life. In other words, ecological injury, like war and poverty, is a global symptom of Original Sin.

The Holy Father’s hope for combating this evil (and every ill that plagues cultures and souls) is, of course, Jesus Christ—his Gospel of the cross and resurrection. Included within this good news are elements that Benedict XVI the pastor and theologian has always found crucial: dialogue, relationship and love.

In our own corner of creation called the Ocean State and the Diocese of Providence, we have a particular opportunity to heed our Holy Father’s hope for dialogue and for a better exploration of “the great moral will, which everybody affirms and everyone invokes, (that can) become a personal decision.” On Thursday, March 24 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. La Salle Academy will host Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light’s annual conference. It’s open to the public and I encourage you to attend.

For starters, the event will include information to help your parish save energy. There will also be “a lively panel discussion of how science, economics, policy and faith” can converse about climate change. There are educational workshops, tours of LaSalle’s solar greenhouse, multi-faith blessings, a taste of local foods and the RI-IPL Low-Carbon Footprint Fair featuring alternative energy providers and more.

As of now, sponsors for the conference include Beneficent Congregational Church, Blarney Stone Consulting, Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, La Salle Academy, Newman Church, UCC, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence’s Office of Social Ministry and Unitarian Universalist Church of South County. As you can see, the event is a big draw of men and women of all faiths who seek to either support creation or save on their heating and electric bill.

Visit www.riipl.org/conference_2011.htm for more information. You can pre-register online or just come that night. While a pre-registration suggested donation is $10 and a suggested at-the-door donation is $15, everyone is invited even if you can’t donate monetarily. Your prayers are always in need—especially for understanding our world, its needs and each other.

Indeed, taking part in any inter-faith gathering has immense value. As our Holy Father noted in Light of the World, while we must remain honest about the differences between those of us of differing faiths, “the important thing is that we truly love each other, that we have an interior unity, that we draw as close together and collaborate as much as we can.”

William Patenaude is an engineer specializing in environmental regulation and a graduate student of theology at Providence College. He is a parishioner of SS. Rose and Clement Church in Warwick. Visit his blog at: http://catholicecology.blogspot.com, or visit Catholic Ecology on Facebook.