A child walks along the shores of Lake Ontario. Photo by Michael Swan

Season of Creation an invitation to pray

By 
  • September 5, 2018

Catholics might finally be ready to pray for the most obvious sign of God’s goodness that has ever been seen, touched or walked through — the natural world. 

Despite Pope Francis’ endorsement and enthusiastic promotion of the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, most Canadian parishes have no great plans for the Season of Creation, which runs from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. 

The incoming executive director of the Green Churches Network believes we’re at a tipping point. Praying for the environment is about to make its way into the mainstream of parish life.

“There’s a desire for it,” explained Gregory Lynch, who takes over as head of Green Churches after Labour Day.

The Green Churches Network, a Christian foundation based in Montreal, will help parishes participate in the Season of Creation by issuing a prayer guide and a calendar of daily suggested prayers and activities.

“People say that they’re interested, but they don’t know what to do,” said Lynch. 

The key to getting more churches and individual Catholics on board may be to rethink the emphasis on reducing the parish’s carbon footprint because it saves money, said Lynch.

“The environmental movement, particularly in the Church, has taken the direction of trying to be practical and thinking about money,” he said. “But I think, particularly when we’re talking about St. Francis of Assisi, it’s more about the joy of the environment and joy of creation that is around us. That really is a much stronger starting point.”s

For Canadians, there’s the added association with Thanksgiving Day in October. An invitation to be thankful for creation is a natural fit for Catholics.

Sr. Nancy Wales finds it a bit puzzling that the Catholic mainstream hasn’t found its way into the Season of Creation. The Season begins with a day of prayer endorsed by Pope Francis, builds on the Pope’s landmark encyclical Laudato Si’ and ends on the Feast of St. Francis. The whole thing is “pretty Catholic,” Wales said.

This is the third year the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada have formally celebrated the World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation and the second year the federation of Canadian St. Joseph sisters has observed the entire Season of Creation.

“To me it’s a wonderful opportunity to kind of enflesh the spirit of Laudato Si’,” Wales said. “And it would be a wonderful way to gradually bring that spirit into our parishes.”

As a member of her federation’s ecology committee, Wales has helped produce prayers for small groups or individuals. It’s an effort the sisters call “greening our prayers.”

“I think the people in the pews are more attuned (to the spiritual side of ecology) than sometimes we hear on a regular basis within our Catholic services,” she said. “I think people probably wonder why we’re not hearing more of this. There’s kind of a divide with what’s happening outside the church doors and what we hear about inside.”

This year the sisters’ major ecological initiative lines up perfectly with the global theme of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation — water. In the spring the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada became the first non-governmental organization and the first faith community to sign onto the Blue Communities network.

“They’re often the first to do things,” explained Paul Baines, Blue Communities’ co-ordinator with the sisters.

On Sept. 19 in London, Ont., the sisters will discuss their Blue Community commitments to minimize bottled water use, advance the idea that water is a human right and promote access to clean, public water, particularly in Canada’s isolated Indigenous communities. From 2:30-4:30 p.m. they will welcome people at 485 Windermere Rd. to pray with them in celebration of the Season of Creation. Call 519-642-7029 if you plan to go.

“We combined having an awareness event and also mixing that awareness with a level of prayer, gratitude and celebration of the gift of water itself,” said Baines. Without water there’s no life.”

At the Archdiocese of Toronto head offices, a Season of Creation prayer service is scheduled to follow Mass on Sept. 6. Organizers are also planning a Sept. 11 shoreline clean-up at Woodbine Beach. Volunteers will meet at picnic shelter number two at 4 p.m. Before you go, email Daniel Niamat at dniamat@archtoronto.org.

“We have a moral obligation to protect creation. It’s our responsibility to do something,” said Porfirio Garcia, who works in the archdiocese’s Office of Formation for Discipleship

While the Season of Creation may focus Christians on the environment for a month, it’s a year-round commitment for the Sisters of St. Joseph, according to Sr. Mary Rowell. The sisters run the Villa St. Joseph Ecology and Retreat Centre in Cobourg, Ont., where they maintain 80 community garden plots and run ecologically focussed retreats for men and women.

“Prayer remains the foundation and allows for understanding of the presence of God in the beauty and integrity of nature, and in each human person,” said Rowell.

Sr. Linda Gregg links environmental commitment to the Trinity. If God exists as a relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, humans must see relationship as the core of their existence, she said. Our first relationship is with our environment. 

“As Pope Francis points out, we are of this Earth and we need her clean air, fresh and clean waters and nourishment for our bodies,” she wrote in an e-mail. 

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