Pope asks all Catholics to step up commitment to saving creation

Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development speaks at a news conference to unveil a new platform for action based on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, at the Vatican May 25, 2021. The dicastery helped close the special year dedicated to Laudato Si’ by unveiling initiatives to promote the message and concrete action called for by the encyclical. CNS photo/Paul Haring

VATICAN CITY. To help lead the world’s Catholics along a journey of intensified action in caring for creation, Pope Francis asked everyone to join a new global grassroots movement to create a more inclusive, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world. 

The new initiative, the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, is “a seven-year journey that will see our communities committed in different ways to becoming totally sustainable, in the spirit of integral ecology,” the pope said in a video message released May 25. 

“We need a new ecological approach that can transform our way of dwelling in the world, our lifestyles, our relationship with the resources of the Earth and, in general, our way of looking at humanity and of living life,” he said. 

This can only come about by everyone working together in a coordinated effort, he said. “Only in this way will we be able to create the future we want: a more inclusive, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world.” 

The pope’s message was released on the last day of Laudato Si’ Week – the “crowning event” of a special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year, which closed May 24. 

But the end of anniversary celebrations of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” ushered in a new wave of initiatives including a new website in nine languages at laudatosi.va and an action platform at laudatosiplattform.org as part of a “road map” of action for the next decade. 

The platform is meant to help those who want to increase their commitment to bringing “Laudato Si’” to life by promising a set of actions over a period of seven years. 

Integral ecology requires every member of the wider Church to contribute their skills and work together on common goals, which is why the platform specifically invites: families; parishes and dioceses; schools and universities; hospitals and health care centers; workers, businesses and farms; organizations, groups and movements; and religious orders. People can register May 25-Oct. 4 to assess what they are doing now and to see how they can further contribute to the seven Laudato Si’ goals. 

Those goals are: responding to the cry of the Earth and environmental degradation; responding to the cry of the poor and vulnerable; creating an ecological-sustainable economy; adopting simple lifestyles; supporting ecological education; promoting ecological spirituality; and building community awareness, participation and action. 

Choosing the biblical time frame of seven years “enables us to work slowly but surely without being obsessed with immediate results,” said Salesian Father Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of the “ecology and creation” desk at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.  

“We envisage the first year to be dedicated to the three fundamental tasks of community building, resource sharing, and drawing up concrete action plans for each of the Laudato Si’ goals,” followed by five years of solid concrete action and a final year as a sabbatical year “to praise and thank God,” he said May 25 at a Vatican news conference, unveiling the new projects. 

The strategy, he said, is to create a snowball effect by enrolling increasingly larger numbers of groups each year “to create the critical mass needed” for achieving real change in the world. 

“The good news is that the critical mass is not a very big number. Sociologists tell us that if you reach 3.5 percent of a group” or community, “we have the critical mass. That’s what Mahatma Gandhi did, that’s what Nelson Mandela did,” Father Kureethadam said. 

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the dicastery’s prefect, said at the news conference that “we must look at the world we are leaving to our children, to future generations.” 

“We no longer have time to wait or postpone action,” he said, underlining the need to listen to and partner with science, young people and the poor. 

“Pope Francis has invited all of us to join forces, to dream and prepare the future” by creating economic models for a world built on social equity and ecological sustainability, the cardinal wrote in his prepared remarks. 

“It is time to embrace new opportunities. There is no sustainability without fairness, without justice and without involving everyone,” he wrote. 

“There is hope,” the pope said in his video message. 

“We can all collaborate, each one with his own culture and experience, each one with her own initiatives and capacities, so that our mother Earth may be restored to her original beauty and creation may once again shine according to God’s plan,” the pope said. 

Catholic Charities adds March floods to disaster assistance program

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Nashville has added the March 28 flooding that killed six people in Nashville to the list of recent disasters it is responding to with a variety of services to help victims.

“We’re currently working with 42 households displaced from their housing” by the March 28 flooding, said Heather Mencke, short term services manager for Catholic Charities.

“Most of the damage was done in South Nashville” along Nolensville Pike, Mencke said. The Harding Place Condominiums and CityVue Apartments “were particularly hard hit,” she said.

Catholic Charities helped those forced out of their homes to stay at a hotel “while they figured out where to go next,” Mencke said.

“Some have moved back into their pre-disaster address, so we’re helping with insurance deductibles,” Mencke said. “Some were not able to move back into their pre-disaster address, so we help them with deposits and first month rent for new housing and moving costs.”

Her office has also helped two people pay for car repairs so they could continue to get to their jobs, Mencke said.

The funds for helping the flooding victims are coming from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and Catholic Charities USA.

The tight housing market in the Nashville area makes it even harder to find new housing for disaster victims, Mencke said. “It’s definitely difficult, especially when there are so many survivors also looking.”

Catholic Charities is still helping victims of the Christmas Day bombing in downtown Nashville.

“We’re currently working with 204 households,” Mencke said, including downtown residents, employees who lost their jobs, and businesses that had to shut down. “We’re helping with financial assistance, rent, mortgage, utilities, phone bills, car payments, car insurance.”

“Some of them are renting or staying with other friends. Some are in hotels or Airbnbs,” Mencke said. “It took most several weeks or months to find new housing.”

Catholic Charities can work with the bombing victims who lost their job until they find a new one, Mencke said. “There really is no limit to what we can provide.”

About 100 victims of the bombing also are receiving counseling services from Catholic Charities, a service that is also available to the flooding victims, she said.

The assistance could be long-term for some victims. “They’re estimating … that most businesses won’t be up and running for two or three years,” Mencke said.

The funding for the bombing victims includes federal grants through the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs. “Right now, the contract has been extended through the end of September,” Mencke said. “The Office of Criminal Justice Programs is applying for an extension that will go through May 2023.”

Funds are also coming from donors through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and United Way of Greater Nashville, Mencke said.

The area has been hit by a series of disasters including the March 2020 tornados, the COVID pandemic, the Christmas bombing and the March 2021 flooding.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Judy Orr and Catholic Charities USA “realized Nashville is prone to disasters,” Mencke said. “We wanted to have a robust program that could respond and recover with our community. We’re focusing on being that agency that can do that.”

Catholic Charities is part of two groups of agencies that are responding to disasters, she said: the Long Term Recovery Group and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

“We’re winding up our tornado services, so that’s a good sign,” Mencke said. Catholic Charities is referring people still being affected by the pandemic to other agencies that can help, she added.

People who want to donate to the disaster financial assistance efforts should contact Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee at cfmt.org or United Way at unitedwaygreaternashville.org. Those interested in volunteering with flood repairs should contact Hands On Nashville at hon.org, Mencke said.

Memorial Mass remembers those who have died during pandemic

St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory held a Memorial Mass for all parishioners and family and friends of parishioners who died during the pandemic, when restrictions often limited the number of people who could attend a funeral. Father Davis Chackaleckel, MSFS, right, pastor of St. Stephen, and Deacon Rob Montini raise the chalice and host at the end of the consecration during the Mass. Photos by Andy Telli

The coronavirus pandemic has often been painful, particularly for people who lost loved ones during the year. With attendance at funerals limited to only a handful of people, families were in some ways denied the support from friends that could ease their pain and give their loved ones a fitting goodbye. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Father Davis Chackaleckel, MSFS, who started his assignment as pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory in the midst of the pandemic. 

The families struggling with their grief reminded him of Calvary where Jesus too died with only Mary, Mary Magdalene and John there with him at the end. In the pandemic people were sharing in the death of Christ, Father Davis said. 

“It’s something I was struggling with,” he said. 

But during a conference a speaker suggested a solution. Noting that a lot of people had died during the pandemic, the speaker said parishes should remember them, Father Davis said. 

A parishioners look at a poster of photos of those remembered after the Mass.

On Saturday, May 22, St. Stephen celebrated a Memorial Mass for all its parishioners and family and friends of parishioners who had died during the pandemic. The Mass was also livestreamed on the parish Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ststephencatholiccommunitytn. 

Parish staff asked parishioners for the names of people who had died and a photograph of them. In the end, there was a list of 129 people. 

“This will send a message to families that the Church is remembering them,” Father Davis said. 

“You may be angry at the pandemic, angry at so many things,” Father Davis said in his homily for the Memorial Mass. “You may be asking why is this happening? You may not have any answers. 

“Jesus is the answer,” he said. “Remember, Jesus is walking with you.” 

Stephen Aud served as a lector at the Mass and to remember his teen-age daughter Rosemary who died last November. 

Aud, his wife Trish, and their children Benjamin and Abigail, were one of the rare families during the pandemic who didn’t have to bury their daughter, son, father, mother, or friend alone. 

“It was a beautiful funeral,” Aud said. “You never felt so much love. … Even in the middle of COVID the church was full.” 

Aud was surprised at the outpouring of love and support. “We’re so grateful.” 

He wanted to participate in the Memorial Mass “to remember our daughter and the others in our community.” 

“I’m grateful that Theresa (Bradley, the head of the parish’s Funeral and Bereavement Ministry) and our priests were able to do this,” Aud said.  

The Memorial Mass is another step for the parish community to come back together as the pandemic eases. “During the pandemic, the world has cocooned itself,” Aud said. “You can feel that the community wants to come back together. You feel the pent-up desire.” 

“They want to be there. At the same time, you have to be worried,” Aud said. “Will everyone come back? Has it been too long?” 

“We are not walking toward normalcy,” Father Davis said. “We are limping. We are limping toward normalcy.” 

But the parish will be working hard to invite people back to the church, Father Davis said. The Memorial Mass is one step in that effort and the parish fall festival will be another, he said. 

Indian priests keep close eye on pandemic in their homeland

A woman mourns outside the mortuary of a COVID-19 hospital in New Delhi May 12, 2021, after seeing the body of her son, who died after contracting the disease. CNS photo/Adnan Abidi, Reuters

The Indian priests serving in the Diocese of Nashville are anxiously following a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in their homeland.

“When COVID first broke, out, India had the most stringent lockdown regulations in the world,” said Father Thomas Kalam, CMI, the associate pastor at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville. “Prematurely, they declared everything is safe. Three months later the second wave struck.”

New cases in India went from 11,610 on Feb. 16 to 401,708 on May 7, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Deaths went from 78 on Feb. 8 to 4,529 on May 18.

Father Thomas Kalam

“With the second wave in India each day we have almost 300,000 new patients,” said Father Thomas, who served for eight years as director and chief executive officer of St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, one of the most prestigious medical centers and teaching hospitals in India. “In America, it’s now 27,000 new patients. We’ve reversed completely.”

At St. John’s, which has a 1,350-bed teaching hospital as well as a medical school, college of nursing, and a research institute, 1,100 beds have been designated for COVID patients, Father Thomas said. All the beds for coronavirus patients had been full, but the number has been falling recently. On May 20 “there were 700 patients there,” he said.

The first wave of the pandemic in India affected mostly people in urban areas, and strict government restrictions kept it from spreading, Father Thomas said. In the second wave, when the restrictions were eased, “whole extended families were affected,” he added.

“The second wave is in the rural areas,” Father Thomas said, where health care resources are limited and traveling is difficult, making it hard to get to a hospital when needed. “By the time they reach there, it’s too late,” he said.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the Catholic Church in India. One-hundred-sixty-eight priests, 116 religious sisters, a bishop and two retired bishops have all died from the virus, Father Thomas said. “They are on the forefront” of India’s response to the virus, he said.

The death toll has also touched Father Thomas personally. “My public relations officer when I was director (of St. John’s), she was a student in our hospital administration course. She was one of our best students, so I appointed her as public relations officer. I worked with her practically every day,” he said.

Last week, the 39-year-old mother of two and her mother both died of COVID on the same day.

Father Thomas’ nephew also contracted the virus, but he received good care and recovered, he said.

Hampering India’s response is the country’s limited health care infrastructure. “In India, there is one doctor for every 1,500 people. For every 1,000 people, there are .7 hospital beds,” Father Thomas said. “For 1.4 billion people, we have 40,000 ventilators.

“We need 500,000 (intensive care unit) beds. We have only 90,000 ICU beds now,” he added.

Father Davis

The United States has provided assistance to India. “They are very grateful to America for sending ventilators and vaccines,” Father Davis Chackaleckel, MSFS, pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory, said of his family still living in India.

Although India produces more doses of the COVID vaccine than any other country in the world, the number of Indians who have been vaccinated is low, Father Thomas said. “That is the contradiction.”

The government set a goal of vaccinating 250 million people by July, but so far 117 million have received at least one dose and only 17 million have received two doses, he said.

“When the second wave started the government gave a grant of $600 million for producing the vaccine,” Father Thomas said. “They should have started it earlier as you did it here in America.”

“My emotion is mainly frustration,” Father Thomas said. “The people who can manage the pandemic well are failing there.”

He pointed to political decisions to lift the stringent restrictions that had kept the first wave of cases in check.

“The largest religious gathering in the world is in the River Ganges,” Father Thomas said. Nine million Hindus gather to bathe in the Ganges to wash away their sins during a weeks-long celebration.

“The government said nothing will happen,” Father Thomas said, but the gathering turned into a super-spreader event.

The government has once again put the country in lockdown, Father Davis said. The families of his brother and sister have all been vaccinated, but they are still not going out in public, he said. “They can’t go out.”

They need to have permission from the police to be out, Father Davis explained.

“They are struggling,” he said.