“What will become of this Blue Planet?” is the question repeated in the song Planeta Azul, performed by the singers Chitãozinho and Xororororó. Describing the sad realities that we find, in terms of environmental degradation, the singers strive to show that nature has been showing its signs of exhaustion. And in this song, there is an interesting phrase that, for us, Franciscans, can even better indicate a motivation in the care of our common home: the authors of the lyrics affirm that “to preserve life is to be at peace with God!
We can add the inspiration of Francis of Assisi: in the contemplation of creation, perceiving the action of God. Such a revolutionary proposal, since in his time, it was common to emphasise only the presence of God in the temple. Now, with the Poverello, the invitation opens up: The Creator manifests his beauty in the creature, in sister water, in brother sun, in sister earth. And to care for the creature is to continue the work of the Creator. More than the patron saint of ecology, because he is always depicted with animals around him, Francis becomes the guardian of a daring mystical experience, capable of connecting the human being with what surrounds him and of perceiving everything as brother and sister.
Franciscans must continue this project. In a context in which a supposed human sufficiency reigns over the other elements of creation, making disproportionate use of natural resources, the charism of Francis of Assisi is entirely relevant. Contemplating God’s created reality suggests that it will be increasingly necessary not only to contemplate God’s action in nature but also to seek ways to restore what has been degraded by irresponsible human action. To be “at peace with God”, we must ask God’s forgiveness for our reckless actions and take on the recovery of what has been destroyed as “penance” for our sins.
For all these reasons, the Franciscan friars of the Province of the Immaculate Conception in Brazil are trying to develop initiatives to care for the Common Home. One of them is the São Francisco de Asís Socio-environmental Centre (CEAF), located in Colatina (ES). This project was begun by the Diocesan Caritas of that city, with its Ecology Ministry, and has the support of the friars and parishioners of the Parish of St. Clare of Assisi. In an area of 8,081.45 m², the centre aims to be a place for debate and awareness-raising on critical and interactive environmental education based on specific experiences and practical attitudes. The project gained importance once the city was cut by the great Doce River, greatly affected in the tragedies of Brumadinho (MG) and Mariana (MG), and which caused damages in the city, such as in the water supply, in the practice of fishing and among others.
The project dreams of building a place for training and activities that promote spaces for debate and integrated and multidimensional understanding of the environment in its complex relationships; all this to value and promote initiatives for the preservation of biodiversity and social inclusion and to collaborate with education for the care and responsibility of different forms of life. The target public are children, teenagers and young people in a situation of social vulnerability, as well as civil society organisations, people who visit the municipality and are interested in environmental issues, families in situations of social vulnerability in the neighbourhood, teachers and students. As a working methodology, the project aims to carry out meetings, seminars, workshops, courses, and the creation of a nursery and a community garden, creating partnerships with related institutions and counting on the support of the general population.
The project phases are already underway, but some have not yet been completed, and the final phase has not yet started. The first stage is presenting the proposal to the local community, which has already taken place. Also, the local land has already undergone some improvements, this being the second stage, such as fencing part of the land to protect the plants, among other improvements. The stage that has attracted the most attention is the third stage, which consists of planting trees and creating the first terraces of the garden.
In this sense, the initiative to plant 134 trees on 2 November 2020 deserves attention. The event took place on the day of remembrance of the dead. The number of saplings chosen corresponds to the number of deaths recorded due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Colatina up to that time. In this way, the friars and the local population fertilised the project’s ground with the planting as a tribute to the victims, also making the space begin to show more evident signs of a beautiful forest. It is the strength of life overcoming the sadness of death!
In addition, the parish’s Ecological Ministry has carried out awareness-raising activities in the other communities, such as ecological walks, training, distribution of information material and tree planting. One initiative that has already been a success was exchanging recyclable materials for products on 29 May 2021, which collected almost half a tonne of waste in three hours. People brought their material and, depending on the amount, exchanged points for gifts donated by local businesses. There are also specific actions such as collecting cooking oil used in the manufacture of handmade soap, preventing it from being dumped into nature in the wrong way. The work has been coordinated and prepared by local leaders who have embraced the arduous but beautiful mission of publicising the project and its aims. But there is still a big step to be taken: the project headquarters.
In this last stage, we want to build a physical space containing a training room, toilets, dining room and administrative room to conduct workshops, courses, training, socio-environmental talks in various areas. The priority users will be the residents of the neighbourhood of São Judas Tadeu. However, the space will be open to the entire population, educational, religious and social institutions, researchers and others to carry out environmental activities.
In addition to this, we must acquire other materials to make the project viable and give continuity to the steps already taken, such as installing a water tank for watering the plants, installing the fence, working materials and the like. All this is still a long road, but the first steps of this long journey have already been taken, and the results are already appearing with a new awareness of care for nature and concern for our common home.
In the words of Br João Lopes da Silva, “participating in this project is rewarding because in one way or another we can help to ensure that the environment is respected and valued, as well as the human being. It is a way of caring for our common home, as Pope Francis invites us to do in the encyclical Laudato Si’. The reforestation here is being well appreciated by the volunteers helping in the project. We must do something because God did not put us in this world for nothing, but he put us here so that we can also be sons and daughters who take care of the environment and take care of each other.”
In addition, Tatiane Siqueira Visintini Fernandes, a volunteer from the Parish Ecological Ministry, says that this project is a way of participating in an activity that is not only for one’s own benefit but also helps the environment in which we live: “being a volunteer in something like this gives a lot of happiness because the benefits are not only for you”.
How can you help?
For those who wish to support the project, more information can be found on the social networks of the Diocese of Colatina (Facebook: Pastoral de la Ecologia – Colatina/ES – Instagram: @pastoraldaecologia.colatina) or by contacting the Parish of Santa Clara (Instagram: @paraclara – email: firstname.lastname@example.org – phone: (27) 3722-6249 or (27) 999345155 – WhatsApp). Project address: Rua Wantuil Barroco Aranha, São Judas Tadeu barrio, detrás del Monasterio de la Santísima Trinidad.
Therefore, if being at peace with nature is “being at peace with God”, initiatives such as these help us know even more the face of God that shines through Creation. Developing environmental and social initiatives is to be stubborn in the face of the supposed human freedom to feel autonomous without caring for the environment. It is to swim against the tide with the certainty that the project of the Kingdom of God is full of life for all, and this life will only exist with dignified conditions for it!