Congregations of women religious call for action in response to climate emergency

The Ursulines of Prelate were one of the congregations of women religious who joined together to release a statement Sept 1, on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, calling for government action on the climate emergency (which was declared by Parliament itself in June). Pictured are local Ursulines (L-R) Sr. Mary Zerr, OSU, Sr. Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, and Sr. Anne Lewans, OSU. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

On the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation Sept. 1, leaders of 64 Congregations of Catholic Sisters in Canada released a statement calling for concrete political action on the climate emergency that is facing the globe.

Two Saskatchewan-based orders – the Ursulines of Prelate and the Sisters of Mission Service – are among the Canadian groups of religious women who signed the statement asking the country’s politicians to take robust, concrete steps to tackle the climate emergency declared by Parliament in June.

Sr. Anne Lewans, OSU, of Saskatoon said that those signing the statement are seeking action, and not just words, from the country’s political leaders.

Sept. 1, 2019 statement by 64 Canadian congregations of women religious: UISG statement

Download the UISG Prayer that accompanies the statement: CLICK HERE

“We are a little community, with older members, trying to do what we can do in little ways – but we need everybody,” said Lewans. The Ursulines of Prelate themselves have taken action, such as divesting from investments in fossil-fuel-based portfolios and rejecting single-use plastics.

Other members of the Ursulines of Prelate (L-R) Sr. Louisa Brost, OSU, Sr. Rosetta Reiniger, OSU and Sr. Madeline Stengler, OSU, at a recent 100th anniversary celebration for their order. Along with the Sisters of Mission Service, the Ursulines of Prelate were one of two congregations of women religious from Saskatchewan to sign the statement calling for political action to address the climate emergency. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

But refusing plastic bags at the store is not going to be enough to address the crisis, she said. “There are big issues that have to be attended to. Our leaders, who have the power and the responsibility of being in leadership, must address this crisis at that level as well.”

The Sept. 1 statement was signed by Canadian member organizations of the International Union of Superiors Generals (UISG), a worldwide organization of superiors of institutes of Catholic women religious. UISG “encourages dialogue and collaboration among religious congregations within the Church and larger society,” according to their website.

“This is a moral issue. There is a moral duty on our part to take care of the planet,” Lewans said. The statement itself begins with a similar declaration: “As women religious, caring for all creation is an essential part of our faith.”

Concrete steps are needed at every level, added Lewans. “There have been many statements, and lots of people have been very vocal – but it is action that we need. We are calling for some real action on the part of our leaders in our country to enact what they have to, to get us all going on the right path.”

The Sisters of Mission Service community of Saskatoon also signed the statement. An active advocate for the care of creation, Sr. Judy Schachtel, SMS, says she is delighted with the statement by congregations of women religious. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Sr. Judy Schachtel of the Sisters of Mission Service, the other Saskatchewan community of religious women that signed this recent statement, said that she is delighted that Canadian religious sisters are taking this action, and have identified the situation as a climate emergency. “It is critical to call this an emergency,” she said, “because that is what it is, and that is what will wake us up. There is some consciousness raising that has to go on.”

Like the Ursuline Sisters of Prelate, the Sisters of Mission Service have also been working to make changes to protect the earth. This has included divesting from investments related to fossil fuels, actively reducing use of water and electricity, recycling and reducing consumption. “All these things are draining the planet: so we are called to reflect on how we can live with mindfulness of that,” Schachtel said. “We are called to recognize that everything is gift to us, and to act in a way that respects the gift, and respects the giver of the gift.”

The Sept. 1 statement from the UISG says: “The drastic changes to our climate brought on by the release of greenhouse gases pose the greatest threat to all living beings. Yet, not enough is being done to address it. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis points out that ‘reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most.’ (169).”

The religious women’s statement urges all politicians running in the upcoming federal election “to acknowledge the climate emergency and to implement an immediate multilevel policy strategy for a just transition to ecologically sustainable living. The actions to address the climate emergency should be concrete, justice-based and stripped of partisan politics.”

Suggested actions in the statement include:

  • Keeping fossil fuels in the ground and ending subsidies to fossil fuel and plastic producers.
  • Redirecting investments and rapidly expanding the renewable energy economy, including investment in retraining for workers affected by job loss in fossil fuel production.
  • Continuing to hold companies to account by putting a cost against the greenhouse gas pollution they produce.
  • Coordinating an intensive and sustained public awareness effort to change attitudes and behaviours.
  • Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and developing climate emergency policies in line with the Indigenous knowledge and teachings.

“We are facing an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to Earth. With so many others on the planet, we hope that politicians will show commitment, leadership and collective wisdom in the movement to protect our planet from destruction. This is the only way forward together,” the statement concludes.

Sr. Anne Lewans, OSU (Photo by Tim Yaworski, Saskatoon Catholic News)

Sr. Anne Lewans described how this action by women religious came about after the Canadian contingent of the international UISG followed up on an annual worldwide meeting held in Rome, which included a discussion of environmental issues and the climate crisis.

“At that meeting, we were challenged to act. And so, as the Canadian French and English groups of UISG in Canada, we surveyed our community members, asking what they are presently doing about this issue, and what they would like to see their community leaders do. This statement came out of that consultation of the members.”

Lewans added that the statement was not meant to exclude any other religious orders, congregations or communities who do not happen to be members of UISG, noting that those who signed the statement did so by virtue of their membership.

“While we are calling everyone else, we also have to do something,” she added. For Lewans, that includes speaking up in public, and doing interviews – even though she would really rather not be in the limelight. She noted that the statement is well timed, with a federal election looming.

“There is an election coming up, and that is a time when we can challenge our candidates to make the care of our earth a priority issue – and not just to talk about it but to address what we can actually do as a society, as a country.”

Pope Francis’ message for the 2019 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation: CLICK HERE

Season of Creation – Prayers and panel discussion Sept. 19 in Saskatoon: DETAILS

In recent years, church leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, have strongly addressed the environmental crisis and the connection between faith and the care of creation. In his papal encyclical Laudato Si’, and elsewhere, Pope Francis has identified a need for conversion in addressing the “care of our common home,” and has identified the exercise of ecological virtues as part of living out one’s faith.

In the 2016 message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, “Show Mercy to Our Common Home,” Pope Francis wrote: “In the light of what is happening to our common home, may the present Jubilee of Mercy summon the Christian faithful ‘to profound interior conversion’ (Laudato Si’, 217), sustained particularly by the sacrament of Penance. During this Jubilee Year, let us learn to implore God’s mercy for those sins against creation that we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed. Let us likewise commit ourselves to taking concrete steps towards ecological conversion, which requires a clear recognition of our responsibility to ourselves, our neighbours, creation and the Creator (Laudato Si’, 10 and 229).”

The Ursulines of Prelate gathered in June 2019 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their arrival in Saskatchewan. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)