On 28th January 2017 approximately 110 Daughters of Charity gathered in their Provincial House in Blackrock Dublin. Part of this day was devoted to a mid-year review of their work on Laudato Si. As part of their Province Plan drawn up in 2016, each Daughter of Charity in the Province of Ireland committed to 'educate ourselves towards a new understanding of our place within the universe in order to have a change of heart and embrace an ethical use of the earth’s resources’ (Province Plan p. 8).
There are 23 local communities of the Daughters of Charity in Ireland and 5 communities in Kenya. All of these local groups worked on the 1st three chapters of the encyclical from September to December 2016. In order to help them the Formation Commission provided a Laudato Si study guide to help the Sisters navigate their way through the encyclical and also to reflect on relevant Vincentian texts.
The results of their prayer, reflection and discussion was sent to the Formation Commission, who synthesised the work of all the local communities. During the course of the day the synthesis was fed back to the Sisters. It was evident that the sisters were having 'a change of heart' and clear also that they had identified many ways to give expression to this change of heart in real and concrete ways.
At this half way point in the year the Sisters thought it would be good to have some input on Eco-Congregation Ireland, an organisation that some of them discovered during their attendance at the Dromantine Summer School 2016. At that summer school, a workshop was given by Sr. Catherine Brennan SSL who is currently the Catholic representative on the Eco-Congregation Ireland committee.
Sr Catherine began her presentation by quoting the passage from Mark 16:15 ‘go preach the good news to all’ and said that we often miss the last few words of this text which reads, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole of creation’. She said that this is our call today. Pope Francis has said clearly in the encyclical that 'Christians are called to, 'an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them' (the whole of creation!) He also reminded us that care of the earth is now a central aspect of Catholic Social Teaching, 'It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face'. (LS no.15) Catherine said that the encyclical is a social justice document rather than an environmental one. It is also one that calls us to become more more aware of the beauty of creation.
Having heard a summary of the work that the Sisters had done to date, Catherine affirmed them for the awareness raising that they had experienced through their reading and sharing of the encyclical Laudato Si and she gave the Sisters affirmation and encouragement to continue in their efforts to take small steps to realise the real and concrete ways in which they were already making small changes in their lives. She said that their responses would be personal, ascetical and prophetic and if we were all faithful in small ways to our commitment then great things could happen!
At the end of delibrations on Laudato Si for this year the Sisters hope as a Province to identify one action that all of them can get behind and support. They plan to do this through a process of information and discernment at their end of year review on 10th June. To host the ECI Climate Justice Candle on this day would be a great honour for them and would help them to ritualise a new phase on their journey as they as a Province commit to one real and concrete action.
To conclude, the core message of the encyclical Catherine said is found in no. 10 LS which states, ‘there is an inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace’. This resounds strongly with our charism she said, ‘Caritas Christi Urget Nos’.
That is why the challenge for members of the Vincentian Family is so relevant and pressing. In this the 400th year of the birth of the charism the Sisters think that St. Vincent would urge them to embrace the challenge of Laudato Si. The cry of the earth is the cry of the poor.
The Sisters thank Sr Catherine for her lively, enthusiastic and informative presentation to them. Her energy and commitment gave them new heart and courage to keep going. It was a truly inspiring afternoon which they greatly appreciate.