By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published March 16, 2022
ATLANTA—After more than five years of environmental work, the Archdiocese of Atlanta has expanded its Laudato Si’ Action Plan to help care for our “common home.”
In 2015, Pope Francis released the encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, the Holy Father challenges Catholics to reflect and change the ways resources are used to care for God’s creation.
Responding to the call, the Atlanta Archdiocese released a Laudato Si’ Action Plan in 2015, with a celebration that followed in April 2016. Authored by professors and staff at the University of Georgia, it provided guidelines for how the faithful, parishes and schools can help to create a more sustainable world.
That 38-page original plan has been expanded to a nearly 80-page document, continuing to provide suggestions for how Catholics can care for the environment, as well as highlight the work of the archdiocese. It is available in English and Spanish.
A new action plan was needed to include current information, said Susan Varlamoff, co-author of the original and newly expanded Laudato Si’ Action Plan and former director of the Office of Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. She is also the creation care team leader at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn.
Co-authors include Varlamoff and Rob McDowell, associate professor of geology and environmental science at Georgia State University. Unlike the original plan’s six authors, the co-authors were joined by 21 contributors of various backgrounds to focus on environmental efforts, such as conserving water, making smart mobility choices and advocating for the earth and vulnerable.
The newly expanded plan places more focus on diversity. This is representative not just in the diverse contributors to the new plan, but also in the photos and examples used throughout the document showcasing local efforts.
“We tried to make sure that we were inclusive and making sure that people saw people that looked like them in this document,” said Kat Doyle, director of Justice and Peace Ministries for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “That was really important to us.”
Advancing technology is also helpful for environmental efforts. The online version of the expanded plan includes direct links to resources such as Vatican documents, books and organizations that can support environmental goals for parishes and schools. The plan also encourages using virtual meetings and livestream for events.
“We want to make sure we are taking advantage of technology and using [it] to do this work,” said Doyle.
Environmental justice is also an important theme of the expanded Laudato Si’ Action Plan, woven into each chapter of the document. It addresses the needs of Catholics of all ages and stages, particularly the youth.
The updated action plan cover includes “children from throughout the world, from different cultures, trying to hold together the earth that is cracking,” said Varlamoff. “[We’re] reaching out to young people and their future we’re protecting. And we’re trying also to pass the baton onto them.”
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., shared his gratitude and support for the expanded plan on Feb. 10.
The updated plan is “the result of reflection, additional research, collaboration and prayer,” said the archbishop. “I offer my heartfelt thanks to the authors of the plan as well as the parishes and schools who showed us that a little effort can make a huge difference.”
A celebration for the expanded plan is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, April 21, at the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Action plan impact
Successful pilot projects kicked off the excitement of the original Laudato Si’ Action Plan, explained Varlamoff.
A private grant was created to help parishes and schools take part in energy audits, helping them not only save money, but also become better environmental stewards.
As a result of the energy audits, parishes and schools are galvanizing their people to create a culture of caring for the earth, said Varlamoff.
Changes have been made at various levels. Many parishes have creation care or green teams. Locations have changed to energy efficient light bulbs and thermostats. Immaculate Heary of Mary Church in Atlanta installed solar panels on the rectory.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta also hosts an annual Green Mass, which celebrates agricultural and environmental sustainability efforts in central and north Georgia. This year’s celebration will be on May 17 at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn.
The local work we have done has attracted attention from around the world, said Archbishop Hartmayer. “Dioceses across the nation have come to recognize this plan as a model they can use in their own communities. Even the Vatican is consulting this team as a Laudato Si’ plan takes shape there.”
Doyle is a representative on the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Plan working group, which helps to support the Catholic Church’s environmental efforts. The group is working on an online platform that will provide tools and resources for dioceses all over the world.
For every Catholic, caring for creation is part of our faith, said Doyle.
Efforts continue in the Atlanta Archdiocese to raise awareness and incorporate more sustainable efforts. As interest increases for solar energy, Doyle is working with Catholic Contruction Services to provide more options. The Archdiocesan Annual Appeal supports the expanded action plan by funding sustainability coordinators to help parishes and schools.
Varlamoff hopes the expanded plan will be used not just by other dioceses, but other faith communities as well.
“I think the Catholic Church can be change agents because we’ve seen the enthusiasm in Atlanta, Georgia,” said Varlamoff. “We’ve seen people becoming engaged.”
We hope this action plan “becomes a catalyst for a green movement,” said Doyle. “We hope that this document is something people will take out into the community and make their communities better because that also is a part of what we should be doing as true evangelists.”