Creation care takes center stage with inaugural Catholic conference

Bishop John Stowe

Bishop John Stowe speaks in a keynote address at CCL’s first Catholic conference May 15, 2021.

By Gwyneth Lonergan

Over a year after the onset of the pandemic, virtual events have gone from foreign to commonplace. CCL staff and volunteers alike have adjusted from in-person conferences, monthly meetings, and social hours to places of virtual community. CCL’s Catholic Action Team recently took the opportunity to put their experiences during the pandemic to good use, organizing CCL’s first Catholic Climate Conference.

Inspiration: Pope Francis and creation care

The conference, entitled “Call to Action to Care for Our Common Home,” took place on May 15 and brought together participants from across the globe. It took its name from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home,” which just celebrated its sixth anniversary. Jon Clark, CCL’s regional coordinator for the Appalachia region, first had the idea to put on a conference for a community of faith, and with a dozen amazing volunteers from the Catholic Action Team, the event was brought to life.

About the original idea, Jon said that he “got a sense from volunteers that they do what they do with CCL because of their faith.” Approximately 30 percent of Congress, as well as President Biden, self-identifies as Catholic—CCL volunteers see the power of that large demographic and are utilizing the tools they’ve learned to connect with their members of Congress through their faith.

Jon credits his own Catholic upbringing for his strong sense of creation care. Creation care is described by American politician and environmentalist Heather McTeer Toney as “the understanding that God has charged us with the care and stewardship of creation, and that its prosperity is tied to our own.” This conference was the perfect opportunity to help Catholic climate advocates explore the tools they need to engage members of their faith in caring for God’s creation and to promote a price on carbon.

 

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Go big or go home

The six-month planning process began in December 2020, and Jon said his philosophy throughout was “go big or go home.” The team quickly realized that the virtual setting was an asset, not a hindrance, as they could reach more people from all over the world. They leaned into this format and ended up drawing over 300 participants from 46 states and 16 countries! 

They also went all out in securing speakers for the event. Leaning on grasstops outreach and utilizing the help of the CCL D.C. office, the organizers were able to host former Representative Francis Rooney (R-FL-19), Jose Aguto from Catholic Climate Covenant, and not one but two bishops: Bishop John Stowe from the Diocese of Lexington and Bishop Robert McElroy from the Diocese of San Diego. You can watch this amazing lineup of speakers on the YouTube playlist for the event here.

Spurring action from attendees

About how the event turned out, Jon said he was “thrilled” that the conference directly led to action being taken by volunteers old and new. Attendees were encouraged to build their own Creation Care Teams, attend CCL’s monthly calling campaign, write Congress, join CCL and engage with the Catholic Action Team, secure endorsements, and perhaps most importantly, care for creation by putting a price on pollution.

Jon has been overjoyed with the action taken by attendees in just the past month. The Catholic Action Team’s Twitter Storm, where volunteers mass Tweet Catholic MOCs about climate action, has been gaining significant traction, sending over 500 Tweets so far. “Knowing that people are taking action now is amazing—that was our goal.”

The event’s incredible reach was extended even further with the media coverage it received. The conference was featured in a National Catholic Reporter article written by NCR environment correspondent Brian Roewe who attended the event. Jon says, “You never know who will attend!” About the article, Jon says he was “blown away” by the story. “Knowing it got out to so many Catholics across the country is a great feeling.”

The power of CCL volunteers

Looking back, Jon underscored the critical role that the volunteers of the Catholic Action Team played in putting together this one-of-a-kind event and expressed his gratitude for the support of the CCL staff. “It really takes a village, and I was amazed by how people stepped up to the plate” in preparing and running the conference, he says. “I’m really pleased. As we’ve seen, an action team can put on a large-scale event like this and find great success.” Jon is looking forward to seeing events other CCL action teams put on in the coming years and is confident that with volunteers and staff like ours, it will be nothing short of incredible.

Podcast: What does the Bible say about climate change?

Gwyneth Lonergan is a communications intern for CCL and a recent graduate of Wake Forest University with a BA in Politics & International Affairs and Theatre.