Social Ministries Conference Focuses on ‘Care for Our Common Home’

By Martina Hart SOUTH CHARLESTON—Blessed Sacrament Parish in South Charleston hosted a Social Ministries Conference Nov. 4, co-sponsored by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa), Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia and Catholic Committee of Appalachia. The conference focused on the message of Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you”), Pope Francis’ encyclical on “Care for our Common Home.” Representatives from organizations, Catholic and non-Catholic faith based networks throughout the state engaged participants from various parishes in topics such as sustainable lifestyles, use of energy and food sources, as well as caring for the environment and for one another, in particular the poor. “We were looking for people who could break open Laudato si’ for those who attended and also in general talk about the Christian tradition and care for creation,” explained Jesuit Father Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the diocesan Department of Social Ministries. He added that it was also a good opportunity for people from the various organizations from different ends of the state to connect by just being “finally in the same room at the same time.” After several breakout sessions, a panel of speakers addressed topics and questions from participants. They pointed out that besides working on public policy and offering community programs it is up to each individual to make conscious choices. “It’s an individual thing,” said Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains. “To just be aware of the gift that God has given us and the preciousness of it and the reverence we need to have to God our creator and the gifts that God has given us.” Organizers of the conference thanked Father John Finnell, pastor of Blessed Sacrament, for the parish hosting the conference. Kate Kosydar, Parish Social Ministry Coordinator of CCWVa, pointed out that a meatless lunch had been served that day on reusable plates, thus cutting down on waste and addressing the negative impact of meat production on the environment. “That is one way of recognizing Laudato Si’,” she explained. “Just to make those kinds of decisions and follow through with them, even when it’s slightly inconvenient.” “That’s what Laudato Si’ gets into, the little things that we can do, not the big giant things, but just the everyday small things, we can do to make a difference,” said Donna Becher of Blessed Sacrament Parish who had been on the committee preparing the conference. She added that Pope Francis “did not write this just for us Catholics to mull over, but it was to the whole world,” to be shared as an invitation to act “in solidarity in this crisis.” However, the encyclical is not just about nature or creation, Kosydar continued. “It’s also about other people,” she said. “And so it’s really important to maintain and create relationships with one another and not just the people who are in our immediate vicinity, who we already know how to talk to, but to go to the margins where Pope Francis is always calling us to, to go to the edges of society, to invite everyone in to relationship, even if it’s someone you’ve never spoken to, but relationships with fellow human beings are just as important as these positive ways that we can relate with nature, that part of creation. “ Participants wrapped up the conference by reflecting on the what they had learned and writing down concrete ideas, goals, strategies to put into practice the message of Laudato Si’. A similar conference will be held in Wheeling on March 17, 2018.