By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 23, 2018
ATLANTA—Karen Jimenez relies on the papal encyclical “Laudato Si” as inspiration when teaching her ecology class at Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta.
In his papal encyclical, Pope Francis included two prayers on environmental issues—one an interfaith prayer for all and one specifically for Christians.
The prayers often open and close Jimenez’s class, which is largely taken by seniors.
For Jimenez, the pope offers the science community moral questions about caring for the earth. He put ecology and environmental concerns at the “forefront of Catholic social teaching,” said Jimenez, who once served in Bolivia with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
Jimenez, along with two Holy Spirit Prep students, attended the annual Green Mass on Oct. 4. Some 50 worshippers attended. Celebrated at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the Mass honors those who volunteer or work in “green jobs” and for all those who love planet Earth. Saint Francis of Assisi is the beloved patron saint of ecology and animals. The Justice and Peace Ministry of the Archdiocese of Atlanta hosted the Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III said one challenge is to make sure future decisions surrounding the environment reflect God’s concern. That often requires changing human hearts, he said.
“There is more at stake than just planting more trees,” he said.
We need to foster “a heart that appreciates all is a gift of God,” said Bishop Shlesinger.
Respecting nature means developing values to combat a throwaway culture where things and people are easily discarded, he said. Society needs to be “concerned about making this a home for everyone,” he said.
During her classroom lessons, Jimenez uses the chapters in the encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” as a conversation starter.
In the section focused to climate change, the pope wrote the warming of the climate is “mainly as a result of human activity.” So, on the moral questions, students learn their choices can shape the environment and the lives of people around the world, mostly poor, who face the aftermath of those decisions, she said.
Pope Francis’ words offer a challenge, she said. The pope “put in a really clear way” how caring for the environment must be a concern for both nations and individuals, said Jimenez.
She has taught at the school for 11 years. Jimenez earned her master’s degree with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and received a second graduate degree in ecology.
Science and faith have always been intertwined for her. Jimenez said she is often guided by something said by a professor—“Embrace the magic of God’s creation that we have stumbled upon, and now call science.”
“Laudato Si” and other related church documents offer a cohesive understanding of science and the environment, she said. “The more we understand creation, the more we understand God.”
The homily of Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger at the annual Green Mass may be found online at https://vimeo.com/293607785 .