Saint Camillus Church, which is a Franciscan parish, demonstrates how to live out the broad moral vision of Laudato Si’ by taking decisive action towards clean, renewable energy transition, caring for the poor, and protecting our common home.
St. Camillus is the largest parish in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. It serves parishioners from more than 70 countries, including immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and south Asia. Many of them left their homes in their countries of origin because of the effects of environmental devastation and climate change. The parish has highlighted the teaching of successive Popes, beginning with St. John Paul II, on the connections among caring for the poor, confronting structural injustice, and urgently acting to prevent human-caused climate change. It has done this through preaching at the Masses, by integrating social justice and climate themes into liturgical celebrations like the Way of the Cross, through workshops and discussion groups, through the curriculum at its school, and by encouraging direct action. Parishioners have taken the church’s comprehensive social teaching to annual pro-life demonstrations and organized statewide legislative advocacy by Catholics on climate issues.
St. Camillus also models responsible environmental behavior in its operations. It started in 2014 with a simple walkthrough energy audit to identify “low-hanging fruit,” including replacing all the incandescent lighting in its main sanctuary with high efficiency lighting. These steps immediately paid off in terms of energy savings and reduced carbon emissions. In 2016, it started benchmarking its buildings using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, the free energy analysis program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This led to the discovery of billing errors and the recovery of over $850 in improperly applied charges. It also helped the parish receive ENERGY STAR certification for its school building – the first Catholic K-12 school in Maryland to achieve that distinction. The parish switched its electricity purchases to wind power in 2017, saving money in the process. Recently, it arranged for a local company to take the food scraps generated by the parish and its school and compost them, instead of having them go to landfills and emit greenhouse gases. The parish also completed a professional-grade energy audit of its 65-year-old facilities and developed a comprehensive plan to upgrade its lighting, heating and cooling systems, and roofs. It is exploring combining a necessary roof replacement with the installation of solar panels that will offset part of the cost.
Finally, St. Camillus serves as a trusted source of information on environmental practices that parishioners can take at home. It holds an Earth Day Fair on the Sunday closest to Earth Day. It distributes bulletin inserts and Lenten calendars featuring environmentally friendly steps. It works with other churches in its area and hosts an interfaith consumer guide on its website describing how parishioners can buy renewable electricity for their homes and apartments.