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Papal Encyclical Aims to Strengthen Relationship between Humans and Nature

Katie Gerhartby Katie Gerhart


Catholics realize that the Pope is a man who is capable of wearing many hats other than the miter. He can be a peacemaker, a listener, a preacher. However, I never really thought of the Pope as being an environmentalist. Pope Francis’ Praise be to You: Laudato Si’ showed me that the Pope can be a figure of post-modernity whose goals stretch far beyond gathering spiritual followers to hear the Word of God. Indeed, Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ is an interreligious encyclical aimed at strengthening the relationship between humans and nature. My environmental studies coursework in college has taught me a lot about the essence of environmentalism, but never before in my curriculum have I come across a text that offers a solution to our environmental distress based on the principles of social justice.

In addressing global inequality, Pope Francis states that “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation” (1.V.48). He regards humans and the environment as equal, yet separate. That is, humans and the environment have a symbiotic relationship in which the environment suffers the consequences of our “throwaway culture,” and we as a society suffer from environmental decay. Before we can begin to formulate an ultimate solution to our environmental problems, though, we need to change our societal mindset. Pope Francis states that society has succumbed to a “throwaway culture” and is the subject of a “technocratic paradigm,” which forces us to ignore our environmental reality. Plenty of people agree that our technological obsession, which lends itself to a “out with the old, in with the new” mentality, is detrimental to our progress as a society, but not enough environmentalists see this as the underlying problem of our earth’s ailments. Technology can be a great alternative to old, wasteful methods (like using email to send a letter instead of paper); however, it is not enough to simply follow the cultural trend without thinking of the implications of an individual action. In choosing to be constantly “connected” via social media, we miss intimate connections with the people physically in front of us. New York Times journalist Sherry Turkle cites that the growing use of technology has caused an overall decrease in empathy since 2000 (“Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” NYT, 9-26-15). This means that the more people care about the screen in front of them, the less they care for each other. This is a crucial aspect of Pope Francis’ encyclical: we cannot begin to solve global environmental issues without first recognizing our societal decline and making an effort to create a socially just world.

How do our actions affect the environment and our society? Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ aims to instill this question in our minds as we continue our daily activities. It is important to note that the encyclical is not a manual demanding drastic and immediate social change; rather, it is a text that offers suggestions for people of all faiths to foster a lasting, meaningful relationship with their neighbors, both natural and human. I recommend Laudato Si’ to any environmentalist who has lost even an ounce of faith in the environmental movement. Pope Francis is a champion of environmentalism who addresses our global environmental crisis honestly and accurately. Pope Francis gives hope for the solution to our environmental problems by reminding us of the impact we can make as a society. If we focus our attention away from the screen and toward each other and the environment, we can work together to better our lives.



Francis. Encyclical Letter Praise be to You Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Print.

Turkle, Sherry. “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” The New York Times. 26 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.


Katie Gerhart is a student at Coe College double majoring in Environmental Studies and English. During the 2015–2016 academic year, she is working at Prairiewoods as an AmeriCorps intern.


Water: Inspiration for Creation, Poetry and Prayer

Planets form in the presence of abundant interstellar water inherited as ices from the parent molecular cloud.   (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)/ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA/Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit)

Planets form in the presence of abundant interstellar water inherited as ices from the parent molecular cloud.
(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)/ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA/Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit)

This is our time in history. We are the people on stage. Do we know our lines? Do we even have the right vocabulary?

We’ll need to learn quickly, creating awareness of the dangers that lie in the future and forming the collective human response that will be needed to carry the story forward.

An example of one crisis of our time: we are quickly running out of clean, plentiful water. Water, which covers about 70 percent of Earth’s surface and composes 80 percent of the human body, is essential for all life on this planet. Water not only keeps us alive physically, it nourishes us spiritually and psychologically.

Yet, in our world today, waterways that were once clean are now polluted with rubbish, chemicals and harmful bacteria. About one sixth of the world’s population does not have fresh drinking water.

What can be done about this growing problem? How can we—those of us making decisions today—help to ensure the possibility of a sustainable and viable future? Thomas Berry, a well-known prophetic voice for the entire Earth community, suggests that at the root of our present situation is our alienation from the natural world. In other words, our most basic need is to develop an intimate relationship with nature, a personal relationship with lakes and rivers, with fields and forests, and with the astounding creatures of this world. Berry urges parents to spend time with their children exploring the wonders of nature: “Let’s go out into the sunshine, let’s go wade in the creek, let’s go meet the trees.”

On a similar note, Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz once remarked, “I spent the summer traveling. I got halfway across my backyard.”

Both men speak of coming to know the sacredness of creation through experience, through forming a spiritual connection to Earth. They suggest that this is the way in which the decision-makers of tomorrow will acquire the knowledge, learn the values and mature within a cosmology of care.

Most of us can remember times in our own lives when we felt transfixed by nature’s beauty. Who of us has not, standing in our own back yard at night gazing upward into a starlit sky, experienced an encounter with mystery? This is a basic religious experience. This is meeting the “Holy.”

Water, too, invites us into prayerful space. Its beauty can be mesmerizing, inspiring poetry as well as prayer. Wendell Berry, in his poem Water, speaks of how sweet it is to hear rain on the roof after days of dry heat. Carl Sandburg writes about how old stones remember past rains and how willows sleep on the shoulders of running water. Saint Francis spoke to Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious and chaste.

But in our crisis today, we, who need the rain to soak into dry ground, who rejoice in the small streams that sing their way down a mountain side, who rely on reservoirs that are full as we cry out for clean water to quench our thirst, we are the ones to move our vision forward. What is it that connects such a common element as water to all that is sacred.

We might begin with the deep realization that everything that supports life, including water, was birthed in the original fireball that exploded in a great burst of energy about fifteen billion years ago. In the same explosion of dust and gas out of which the stars and planets eventually emerged, water also was made possible. Scientists speculate that water molecules were part of the same dusty swirl from which our own solar system was formed. Water—sacred water—is part of the original gift that is the universe.

Now, some 4.5 billion years after Earth itself came into being with all that was needed for life, we are in great need of treasuring the gifts our Creator has given to us out of Great Love. We need to expand our awareness of the “big picture,” to see that the way in which each of us lives our lives is truly significant. The natural world is the location for sacred communion.

Fortunately, people are responding as individuals and as members of a variety of organizations. Here are some basic facts to consider, some discouraging and some hopeful:
• 20% of water pollution comes from the runoff of toxic products used in lawn care, and over 8,000,000,000 gallons of water are used to water those lawns.
• Americans use 70,000,000 pounds of pesticides on their gardens each year. These chemicals find their way into our water source.
• However, the number of people responding to the challenge of protecting water is growing rapidly. New organizations are rising up across the world devoted to this issue. A few of these are: Green Faith, Food and Water Watch, Catholic Climate Covenant and Water without Borders.

What are YOU doing for water in this time of history? What more can you do?


Two Prairiewoods friends offered to write poems inspired by water for this article. Below are their beautiful works of art …

Vidi Aquam

by Nina Shepard, FSPA

He sat on a boulder
in the middle of a flowing stream,
and sang the entire Vidi Aquam.
“I saw water…”
I, too, have seen water in its many forms,
as glacier, icicle, snow, hoarfrost,
dew, drizzle, downpour
dripping, running, gushing,
thundering, trickling, seeping.
It speaks to us with many voices,
singing, humming, gurgling,
proclaiming, shouting, laughing.
And if we listen carefully, we can hear
the voice of the One who pours out
torrents of love and mercy.
We are bathed in love forever.

Vidi Aquam, part of Psalm 117, is used in the rite of sprinkling the congregation with holy water during Easter-tide. Translated it reads: “I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, alleluia; and all they to whom that water came were saved, and they shall say, alleluia, alleluia.”


Quenching Our Thirst

by Jean Elliott Junis

Spring rains are back,
The woods are awakening
in all shades of green,
some we’ve never seen.

The plain peony bush out back
silently sips moisture. Until,
a tight round belly bursts open.
Then another, and another!
Magenta flower-puffs sway,
Feeding us fragrance.

Meanwhile, the waterfall is showing off again,
Like a bride, dressed in flowing white veils.
guests push forward
To feel her beauty,
Mist upon them like holy water.

Evening baths on warm nights
are swirling, calling out
to tired workers and giggly children,
Rinse off today’s field sweat and fallen sand castles,
Tonight, it’s just you!

Rain drops of liquid life-force
Know well what we need, even if we don’t.
Oh, the waters of the earth are constantly begging us,
Come! Quench your thirst!

What can YOU do to care for Earth, our home?

Earth as Our HomeDo you struggle with the question of what one individual or family can do to care for Earth? What do you tell the children in your life about the planet and the damage it is suffering? How do you deepen your own understanding of your responsibility to Mother Earth?

Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, 2015, Catholic Sisters for a Healthy Earth released a prayer service to be used with their Earth as Our Home reflection booklet. Together, these pieces can help you and your family honor Earth and deepen your commitment to caring for it.

The Earth as Our Home booklet, released last year, helps you connect each room of your home with the broader context of your Earth-home. The newly-released A Pilgrimage of Blessing prayer service takes the reflection booklet a step further by guiding you through a physical pilgrimage from one room of your home to the next. (Both pieces can be downloaded for free by clicking on their titles above.)

“After a journey, how many of us say, ‘It is so good to be home!’ What if we could say that every day?” reflects Sister Michelle Balek, author of the prayer service. “And not only about returning to the building we inhabit and the relationships there, but the entire environment, the entire Earth Community in which we move every day. It IS good to be here in this home we call Earth.”

The Prairiewoods staff recently used this prayer service to bless the spaces at Prairiewoods, which serves as a home of sorts for many staff, volunteers, guests and creatures. Now it’s your turn: What will you do to care for Earth, our home?

Action Alert

Our Prayers Will Bring Hope. Our Lights Will Guide the Way.
December 2014/January 2015

December 1 to 12, world leaders will try to agree on the fundamentals of a climate change treaty in Lima that will guide the 2015 Paris climate talks. If we are to stop climate change we need a strong meaningful agreement that everyone can commit to. Lima is where our leaders have to “nail down” the fundamentals of the agreement, giving a year to work on the details so that they can agree and sign a climate treaty in December 2015. Thus, success in Lima would be one giant step forward for a robust climate treaty that protects our planet and our future.

When world leaders come together, they need to know that we are holding them in our thoughts, meditations and prayers. Each evening from December 1 to 7, households and communities around the world are invited to light a candle, or solar lamp, and pray, meditate, or offer an invocation for a climate agreement. On Sunday, December 7, from 8 to 8:30 p.m. worldwide, people from diverse faith and spiritual communities will gather for public vigils.

This year the IPCC (the United Nation’s International Panel of Climate Change experts) has released the most comprehensive report on climate change ever made. The conclusions are sobering – our climate is changing at a disastrous rate because of our carbon emissions. We must wake up during this Advent and act now. Humanity is facing the greatest challenge since evolution began.


• Earth is almost half way to the maximum amount of warming our living Earth can tolerate before its systems become unavailable to support life.

• The ideal amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is 350 parts per million. The current level is 404 parts per million.

The fossil fuel industries have 2795 gigatons of carbon dioxide resources in supply and yet Earth and humanity can withstand only 560 gigatons of carbon dioxide before going over the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase.

Reflections and Actions:

• “… this task entrusted to us by God the Creator requires us to grasp the rhythm and logic of creation. But we are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not “care” for it, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a gift that we must care for.” (Pope Francis, 6/5/13, Environment)

• Take a photo at a public vigil you attend; post it on Facebook or Twitter with #LightForLima along with your hopes for the future. Our digital vigils will tell politicians that people around the world are watching and praying for action.

• More information on “Light for Lima” is at and information regarding the gathering of world leaders is at

• Read the summaries or reports from the IPCC at

• A prayer is located at Other resources for organizing a vigil are at

• Sign the Our Voices petition urging global leaders to prevent devastating climate change as part of the vigil at

• U.S. citizens are invited to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to contribute to the Green Climate Fund that helps developing nations mitigate and adapt to the greatest impacts of climate change at

• For signs of hope, read the June 2014 article entitled, The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate written by Al Gore at

• Reflect on what is possible – even if at first the challenges seem insurmountable. What urgent action must be taken in our mission to care for Earth?

“Pope Francis has called human trafficking “a crime against humanity” and “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.”

The 2015 World Peace Day will focus on human trafficking. The theme is, “Slaves no more, but brothers and sisters.” Do you recognize your brothers and sisters around the world as made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore having “equal dignity”?

Trafficking, which generates huge amounts of income for organized crime, threatens peace because it is based on a lack of recognition of the fundamental human dignity of its victims, the Vatican statement said. Information, resources, and the Pope’s message for the day are at

Copyright © 2014 Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, All rights reserved.

Gardener’s Paradise Retreat at Prairiewoods

Gardener's Paradise RetreatJulian of Norwich said, “Be a gardener! Dig a ditch! Toil and sweat, and turn the earth upside down, and seek the deepness and water the plants in time. Continue this labor and make sweet floods to run and noble and abundant fruits to spring. Take this food and drink and carry it to God as your true worship.”

Are you ready to be a gardener? To toil and sweat and seek deepness? Select a week this summer or fall and come to Prairiewoods (120 East Boyson Road in Hiawatha) to nurture your greening spirit!

This retreat is for those who find God’s grandeur in the beauty of living close to the earth. Spend a blissful week working in one of Prairiewoods’ gorgeous gardens, lush with flowers, produce or herbs. Your week in paradise includes sacred space where you can reflect by the pond, unwind on a hammock or sky chair, soak up the sun, weed, water, prune, fertilize or harvest to your heart’s delight. No formal training is required. Whether you’re a seasoned green thumb, an avid gardener or just someone who loves to play in the dirt and help things grow, this retreat will refresh your soul! Gardener’s Spiritual Reflections will guide you through the week to make your gardener’s heart dance!

The cost is $250 and includes Gardener’s Spiritual Reflections, five nights lodging and all meals. The commuter fee is $115 and includes Gardener’s Spiritual Reflections and daily lunch. (Holistic services and spiritual direction are available for an added cost.) To check lodging availability and register, contact Prairiewoods at 319-395-6700. (Online registration is not available for this retreat.)

Welcome the Marginalized

“Every single person has capabilities, abilities and gifts. Living a good life depends on whether those capabilities can be used, abilities expressed and gifts given. If they are, the person will be valued, feel powerful and well-connected to the people around them. And the community around the person will be more powerful because of the contribution the person is making.”  —John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight

When we befriend those on the margins of society by practicing hospitality and welcome, we create communities where justice can be lived out. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

Circles currently forming (If you would like to join a circle, click the contact to send an email request.)
A Place of Grace, 
contact Joe Kruse
Catherine McAuley Center, contact Gregory White
Cedar Rapids Metro Economy Alliance, contact Quinn Pettifer
Des Moines Contingent, contact Denny Coon
Four Oaks, contact Jim Kirks
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church,
 contact Randy Kasch
House of Hope, contact House of Hope staff
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, contact Christian Roth
Johnson County Social Services, contact LaTasha Massey
Metro Catholic Outreach, contact Christin Tomy and Barb Kane
Neighborhood Transportation Service, contact Mike Barnhart
Northwest Neighborhood Association, contact Linda Seger
People’s Church, contact Rev. Tom Capo
Progressive Theology, contact Joann Gehling, FSPA
Shelter House, contact Kafi Dixon
Shelter House, contact Crissy Canganelli
Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, contact Gary Hinzman
St. Cecelia’s Parish in Ames, contact Tom Primmer
System Thinkers, contact Ellen Bruckner
Third Avenue Churches, contact Heather Hayes
Unity Center, contact Jan Griffith
Wellington Heights Neighborhood, contact Sherrie Ilg

Safety & Security

“All we have to do to create the future
is to change the nature of our conversations
to go from blame to ownership,
and from bargaining to commitment,
and from problem solving to possibility.”
 —Peter Block

Studies show that there are two major determinants of our local safety. One is how many neighbors we know by name. The other is how often we are present and associated in public outside our homes. Connections among neighbors are critical. 

Circles currently forming (If you would like to join a circle, click the contact to send an email request.)
Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, contact Quinn Pettifer
Cedar Rapids Neighborhood, 
contact Carol Sindelar
Cedar Rapids Police Department, contact Chief Bryan Jerman
Family Promise of Linn County, contact Becky Knudson
Mound View Neighborhood Association, contact Clark Rieke
Knowing My Neighbors
Sixth Judicial District Department of Correction Services, contact Bruce Vander Sanden
SixthJudicial District Department of Correction Services, contact Melanie Steffens
SixthJudicial District Department of Correction Services, contact Julie Rochford
Sixth Judicial District Department of Correction Services, contact Kelly Schultz
Sixth Judicial District Department of Correction Services, contact Malinda Lamb
System Thinkers, contact Maridee Dugger
Jail Ministry Mentoring

Resilient Local Economy

“Determination, energy, and courage appear spontaneously when we care deeply about something. We take risks that are imaginable in any other context.”  —Margaret Wheatley

“The economy” is the sum total of transactions between people. And people’s lives and experiences are about much more than just dollars, profit and growth. As the conventional economy continues to crumble, we the people at the grassroots still need to keep a roof over our head, feed our children and maintain a relative degree of peace within our local community. In order to keep things going, we are going to have to use different economic tools than we have in the past: tools to facilitate transactions between people. A citizen economy gives form to the belief that the local exchange of goods and services supports a community’s competence.

A citizen economy is a mixture of a gift exchange and currency economy where people believe that much of what we need we can find locally, which keeps the currency local too. Develop practical life skills which will get you through challenges. Grow food. Now. Everywhere you can. Relocalize: shift to lifestyles that require far less transportation. Powerdown: decrease your energy dependence overall. Develop a supportive community circle around you to fall back on emotionally or more tangibly. Develop Inner Resilience—the character and spiritual base to remain flexible and feel good about it.

For more information on how to build a resilient local economy, visit or the Economic Resilience blog.

Circles currently forming (If you would like to join a circle, click the contact to send an email request.)
Axiom News: Engaging Strengths Catalyzing Change,
 contact Peter Pula
Business Policy and Strategy for Sustainable Development, University of Northern Iowa, contact Adele Santana
Center for Faith and Business, contact Anna Geyer
Center for Faith and Business, contact Lon Marshall
Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, contact Jennifer Pickar
Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, contact Stefanie Munsterman-Robinson or Karl Cassell
GoDaddy, contact Amy Grotewold
Iowa Cultural Corridor, contact Jessica Johnson
Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, contact Rev. Susan Guy
Rockwell Collins, contact Melanie Richert
Source Media, contact Chuck Peters
St. Joseph the Worker Church in Dubuque, contact Constance LaBarbera
Van Meter Inc., contact Jennifer Bleil

Health & Well Being

“Circles create soothing space where even reticent people can realize that their voice is welcome.”  —Margaret Wheatley

We are responsible for each other. This is the meaning of community. We take seriously the idealistic notion that our future is dependent on each of us and if one of us is not free, or valued, or participating in a full life, then these are not possible for any of us. How long we live and how often we are sick are determined by our personal behaviors, our social relationships, our physical environment and our income. We are the people who can change these things, individually and with our neighbors.

Circles currently forming (If you would like to join a circle, click the contact to send an email request.)
Des Moines Contingent,
 contact Jean McCarthy
First Presbyterian Church, contact Ted Miller (faith communities reclaiming the language of transformation)
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, contact Randy Kasch
Integration of Medical and Complimentary Methods, contact Katherine Krage
Lanston Strategy Group, contact Dave Langston (self image and performance)
Marion Cares Inc., contact Joe Polzen
Mount Mercy University, contact Deb Oliver
North Liberty Community, contact Judy McRoberts
Retirement Planning Association, contact Sylvia Brim (help singles out of isolation)
Shelter House, contact Kari Dixon or Crissy Canganelli (ability of all people to afford to live in the community in which they work)
Sixth Judicial District Department of Correction Services, contact Bruce Vander Sanden
Sixth Judicial District Department of Correction Services, contact Malinda Lamb
St. Anthony Hospital in Carroll, Iowa, contact Ed Smith
United Way of East Central Iowa, contact Leslie Wright
     Adverse Childhood Experiences (April 30, May 28, June 25, July 30, Aug. 27, Sept. 24, 5:30–6:30 p.m.)
Increasing Well-being of Our Children (April 30, 5:30–6:30 p.m.)
University of Iowa Nursing and VA Nursing, contact Theresa Keller, FSPA
Waypoint Services for Women, Children and Families, contact Angela Kron


“Whatever life we have experienced, if we can tell our story to someone who listens, we find it easier to deal with our circumstances.”  —Margaret Wheatley

Children become effective adults by being connected with community adults in their productive roles. The most effective local communities claim their youth and assume primary responsibility for their upbringing. “Where there are ‘thick’ community connections, both child development and school performance improve” (McKnight and Block, The Abundant Community).

Circles currently forming (If you would like to join a circle, click the contact to send an email request.)
Catherine McAuley Center, contact Gregory White
Catholic Charities, contact Stephen Schmitz
Cedar Falls/Waterloo Group, contact Don Walton
Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, contact Quinn Pettifer
Coe College, contact Kristin Hutson
Diversity Focus, contact Chad Simmons
Diversity Focus, contact Becky Lutgen Gardner
Grantwood AEA, contact Lisa Frey or Katy K. Lee
IowaTransformED, contact Trace Pickering
Kirkwood Community College, contact Al Rowe
Kirkwood Community College, contact Barbara Oakland
Kirkwood Community College, contact Steve Williams
Kirkwood Community College, contact Todd Prusha
University of Minnesota – Winona, contact Randy Schenkat
University of Northern Iowa, contact Dr. Jan Bartlett