Celebrating a World Day of Prayer for creation with the Pope
When Pope Francis called for a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, to be celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 1, United Church of Christ environmental justice proponents could hardly wait to participate. The Pope’s invitation, addressed to “every person living on this planet,” is asking all faith groups to take a stake in preserving the planet — an issue on which the UCC has worked for decades.
The Vatican announced the prayer day at the beginning of August, to follow the Pope’s encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be,” released in mid-June. In it, the Pope detailed his aspirations for a new partnership between science and religion to combat human-driven climate change.
The Rev. Jim Antal, president and conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC, said when the Holy Father released his encyclical, it wasn’t “just for Catholics — and neither is the World Day of Prayer for Creation for which Pope Francis is calling.”
“His Encyclical calls for a ‘broad cultural revolution’ to confront ‘the ecological crisis’ — or to say it another way, ‘to change everything we need everyone,'” Antal continued.
The Rev. Brooks Berndt, UCC minister for environmental justice, is excited that religious leaders of other faiths are calling attention to the necessity of climate care. On Tuesday, he and a UCC “Green Team” made up of national staff will take to the streets of Cleveland for a few hours to hand out flowers with a prayer attached, to raise awareness around creation care.
“Some problems are too big for people of faith not to work together, despite whatever differences or disagreements we might have on other matters. Global warming certainly fits this criteria,” Berndt said. “That’s why we want to let our Catholic neighbors in Cleveland know that we are with them on this. We are on the same team when it comes to caring for creation and fighting climate change. With regard to the environment, Pope Francis has given global leadership from a faith perspective that has been sorely lacking until now. We want to celebrate and support what he is doing.”
The Green Team will gather at noon in Amistad Chapel UCC, the church housed on the street-level at the national offices, for a brief moment of prayer and song, before the team heads out to greet pedestrians on East 4th Street, a nearby alley with restaurants frequented daily by people in downtown Cleveland. The group will continue to pass out flowers on the way to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland on East 9th Street.
Each carnation will be attached to an excerpt of the Pope’s prayer, which reads, “Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.”
Like Antal and Berndt, noted environmentalist Bill McKibben hailed the Pope’s letter and call to prayer. “In recent years a broad-based movement has arisen to take up the challenge, but this marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognized the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be human,” he said.
Beyond the World Day of Prayer for Creation, Antal hopes to see people of faith continue to care for the planet. “In addition to joining in this world day of prayer for creation, I urge pastors to begin to preach on climate change on a regular basis,” he said.
Next month, when the Pope visits the U.S. to deliver remarks to Congress and the U.N. General Assembly, a multi-faith celebration will take place to commemorate his visit at the National Cathedral on Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C.
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