John Dalla Costa and Fr. Chris Valka hope to continue the parish’s reflection on ecology beyond the Lenten season. Photo by Jean Ko Din

St. Basil’s parish reflects on environmental impact

  • March 29, 2015

TORONTO - Construction has become the soundtrack of daily life at St. Basil’s parish.

The church, located in the heart of downtown Toronto, has new condominiums going up on all sides. But the urban development has made the parish very aware of the value of their land, said Fr. Chris Valka.

During Lent, the parish is reflecting on mankind’s relationship with the natural environment. Valka said Lent is a good season for that because it is inherently very earthy.

“It is the idea of the desert, the idea of the wood of the cross,” said Valka. “I think, intrinsically, it gives us the ability to connect with the nature within us and the natural world that surrounds us.”

Every Sunday since before Ash Wednesday, Valka has incorporated environmental themes into his homilies.

In the Gospel of Jesus’s transfiguration, Valka talked about the mountaintop as the place where people typically went to meet God because it allowed a view of the world that was unobstructed and pristine.

In the Gospel where Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for water, Valka talked about water as a life-giving resource which even Jesus needed to survive.

On the fifth Sunday of Lent, he talked about how our actions affect our relationship with God.

“The readings really are very easy to connect with these themes,” said Valka.

Valka has co-written a pamphlet titled, “Examining our Environmental Conscience,” with parishioner John Dalla Costa.

The pamphlet provides a list of questions that reflect on the environmental impact of each individual. It is supported by church bulletins that promote a website where parishioners can measure their ecological footprint.

Dalla Costa is also a member of the parish’s Roman Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. He said that the themes being discussed at Mass have found their way into their weekly RCIA meetings. Every Wednesday, when the 22 candidates pray the stations of the cross together, they use meditations that Dalla Costa wrote specifically for the RCIA group.

The meditations look at nature’s role in Jesus’ journey to Calvary. Dalla Costa was inspired to write them when he heard of Pope Francis’s upcoming encyclical on ecology.

“The equivalent for me is what Desmond Tutu did with apartheid,” Dalla Costa said. “He (Pope Francis) became the moral force speaking about environmental issues.”

Dalla Costa said that when he began to research Catholic theologians who spoke about the environment, the meditations began to write themselves.

“The stations were written to be true to Jesus’s experience,” he said. “We weren’t trying to overlay something or do some kind of force-fit. We just let the fact that He was... on the Earth walking, help us understand how the environment was present there just like people were present.”

Valka said one of his favourite meditations is Jesus’ first fall.

“One of the things that I had never thought about is that when Jesus couldn’t bear the cross, it was the earth that received Him first,” Valka said. “It was a very powerful reflection when you start thinking about how the earth was so much a part of that.”

With condos rising all around the church, Valka said that the parish is more aware than ever of the importance of protecting their surrounding green space.

St. Basil’s has also been working towards making the church building more sustainable by installing energy-efficient lighting. The parish is also transitioning away its paper cups and plates by using more ceramic plates and mugs for church events.

The parish has been host to a number of events on environmental consciousness. Leanna Cappiello, social and community coordinator at St. Basil’s, organized an Earth Hour prayer service on March 28 called “Taizé por La Tierra.”

The parish also hosted an eco-theology presentation by professor Dennis O’Hara.

Valka said O’Hara’s presentation prompted parishioners to think about how God works through nature.

“One of the things that he said that I never really thought about was God’s revelation, we are told by the Church, is both from Scripture and through creation,” said Valka. “When we harm the natural world, we are in fact harming the ability for His revelation to be present for future generations.”

Looking to the Easter Triduum, Valka said that the church’s Good Friday cross will hold special meaning. The cross was constructed from wood taken from the St. Basil’s confessionals that were replaced during last year’s renovations.

“We didn’t make it pretty. It’s got chips on it. It’s got all the nail holes,” he said. “This isn’t just another cross, but this wood has heard the cries and the anguish and felt the peace and the forgiveness of thousands, for generations and this is the wood that we adore.”

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