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St. Rita embraces pope’s Earth Day message in special liturgy

May 1, 2015
Christina Gray

Just hours after Pope Francis took to Twitter urging Catholics to reflect on the spiritual and moral imperative of caring for the environment, St. Rita School students and parishioners gathered for a special Earth Day Mass Apr. 22.

“You have to keep the land so that it can continue to be, as God wants it, the source of life for the entire human family,” Pope Francis tweeted on the eve of Earth Day, celebrated worldwide on April 22.

The spirited, song-filled liturgy was a collaboration between the school’s science and religion teachers and sixth, seventh and eighth grade students who also wrote the prayers of the faithful and proclaimed the Scripture readings. 

Father Ken Weare has turned Earth Day into an annual teaching moment for his parish community in Fairfax since he became pastor 11 years ago. He began offering a special Mass to celebrate “God’s great gift to us” he told Catholic San Francisco.

“We gather here to thank God for the Earth,” he said. “It is sacred because God gave it to us as our home out of his love for us.” 

None of the students and few of the faculty of St. Rita School were born when the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, so Father Weare briefly explained its origins and legacy to the young congregation before his opening prayer.

“Our Lord God, you fill the earth with your glory and gave it to us as a home. Teach us to recognize its wonders, to treasure its variety, to respect its diversity and to protect its fragile beauty,” he said.

Student Cristian Antonini followed with a reading from Isaiah: “I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually, I guard it night and day so that no one may harm it.”

Classmate Catherine McGibben read Psalm 4:2: “How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?”

Walking up and down the main aisle with a microphone he held out at turns to students eager to answer questions in his dialogue-style homily, Father Weare compared the earth with the home parents provide for their children out of love for them.

“At the end of your school day where do you go?” he asked the students. We go home, the students answered.

Who gave them their home and why, he continued. “My parents gave it to me so I could be safe” and “So I have a good life,” came replies.

“Parents provide you with a home for a good life because they love you,” said Father Weare. “God gave us the gift of the Earth for the same reasons!”

But just as parents expect us to treat our homes with respect, God expects the same of our earthly home, he said.

“At the end of the day, you don’t just throw your clothes in a corner, do you?” he said.

It is not just for this generation we take care of the world, he said. “It’s for all the children of the future, and all their children and their children after that.”

Student-read intentions reflected gratitude.

“Lord, help us to be thankful for the beautiful things you give us, help us to love and care and pray for each other while protecting the poor community, vulnerable children and the environment, we pray to the Lord.”

In the two years since his papacy began, Pope Francis has spoken often on environmental issues such as protecting creation, climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters, water, food and sustainability.

He is finishing an encyclical on the environment expected to be completed later this summer in advance of the Paris talks on climate change. It is widely expected to give support to those who attribute climate change to human activity, a scientific conclusion the pope, a former chemist, has said he accepts.

During his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Apr. 22, the pope appealed to mankind not to wrongly manipulate or exploit the planet against God’s will, instead “to see the world with the eyes of God the Creator – the earth and the environment are to be protected and the garden to be cultivated.”

“May men’s relationship with nature not be guided by avarice, manipulation and exploitation, but conserve the divine harmony between creatures and the created in the logic of respect and care, to put it at the service of brothers, and also of future generations.”

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