A Message in the Wind

Every year, SCU faculty and students gather beneath the trees and listen to the teaching of Laudato Si’.

On a small patch of grass and beneath tree cover, a spring breeze carried clear voices speaking of interconnectedness. Throughout the day, students and faculty read aloud from a formal letter Pope Francis wrote to bishops about what the Church should be. The words of this encyclical, as such a letter is known, have reached beyond the sphere of their initial audience and connected the Church to the environment. For the director of tUrn Kristin Kusanovich, this encyclical, Laudato Si’, has been the guiding document for their activism and social justice work. 

Laudato Si’ embodies Ignatian values at its core having come from the Pope who is a Jesuit. Kusanovich believes that the unique duration of the tUrn week reading of Laudato Si’ challenges people to notice and feel the urgency of the time left that will decide the future. For Kusanovich this contemplative act supports people in becoming more active in the climate and social justice movements. Furthermore Kusanovich states that through guidance and exposure to the Pope’s radical concern for all life anyone can discern a path forward about how to act and show their care.

“Reading Laudato Si’ outdoors with an audience under a tree for hours is like an extended prayer,” Kusanovich says. “It feels like those of us who are participating in it are interconnected to each other, aware that it is not entirely our burden to accomplish it all, but that without our small part the enormous task would not be achieved. It seems like we are praying into existence the ideas that the encyclical addresses, that is the hope. The Pope calls on all people to undergo ‘an eco-conversion’ and I don’t know how that will happen if people do not have the opportunity to listen to themselves or others actually reading this letter.”

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Faculty and students could sign-up or stopy by and red from the encyclical all throughout the afternoon. Kristin Kusanovich throughout the reading found it to be like reading a story rich with emotions.

Where past encyclicals have largely discussed specifically Catholic or Church-related matters, Laudato Si’ connects to quite literally the whole planet. It encourages people of all religious backgrounds to consider their role in the environment as part of their spiritual practices and as a way to find deeper meaning and connection. 

“Anything that deeply inspires you can give you the power and the energy and the motivation to do some work,” Kusanovich says, “Climate action is work when it comes right down to it. Bold, tedious, frustrating, but fulfilling work. Fixing these problems is collective, intersectional work that can be energizing and heartwarming but it is not fun, light, or entertaining. We are talking about the diminishing capacity of the planet to support all that we value, need and love. Social justice work diminishes one’s leisure time and cuts into family and friend time, but my family are 100% behind my work in tUrn. Not facing the climate crisis means all social inequities become exacerbated, and that heartbreaking thought should be motivation enough to at least try to help.”

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This encyclical has been different from past encyclicals in how it directly connects and speaks of the environment. Dennis Smolarski S.J. was excited to read it and believes it can help inspire people who are brainstorming about what can be done to raise the level of visibility about climate change.

Mathematics and computer science professor Dennis Smolarski S.J. who read at the event, also believes that the connection between spirituality and the environment allows individuals to recognize the bigger picture of the universe. To see the vastness of the universe and creation, Smolarski states that people need only look to the starlit night skies or the regenerative powers of spring unveiled in blooming flowers. 

“We are not masters of the universe. The universe is much bigger than we are,” Smolarski says. “We’re only beginning to try to understand how it works and what may evolve out of this world in the years ahead about the benefits and the dangers. We can’t just keep on using and cutting trees down. We have to be cautious in the way that we interact with nature around us with creation around us for the benefit of ourselves in the present and for the benefit of future generations.”

Aside from reminding people of their place in the universe, Smolarski felt that the reading was part of continuously raising consciousness over the issue. Smolarski believes that these readings have allowed people repeatedly to question and reflect upon their efforts or actions to combat climate change.

“It’s like a good novel that you’d like to reread over and over again or a good play that you’d like to go see and get touched by the music or character interactions,” Smolarski says. “I think, rereading this on a regular basis, or hearing some of the passages, really made me think about certain things and especially [how] this is not just a U.S. concern. It’s a worldwide concern, and it affects different people in different ways.”

In 2019, the tUrn project decided to create the world’s longest public reading of Laudato Si’ to provide a way for people to engage at any time during this all day poetic meditation. The length of the reading has another significance—the number of hours it lasts decreases by one hour each year, reflecting the diminishing number of years remaining in this decade of climate action through 2030. Gabby Yabut ’23, who helped host and read various passages during the event, believes that the reading has helped people hear and fully experience the words of the Pope’s letter to the world.

For Yabut, tUrn, with its headliners like the creative and meditative “Laudato Si’ Under a Tree” reading have brought climate issues to the forefront of campus culture and sparked discussions that can then inform the tUrnout Climate Action Power Hours. One passage Yabut found most impactful from the encyclical was the Pope’s appeal for open dialogue and active as well as inclusive conversations. This open dialogue over differences appeals to Yabut who notes that while the climate crisis can, at times, seem daunting and overwhelming the inclusion of all voices is vital to climate success.

“The first step is always listening to other people and listening to how they are being affected by this,” Yabut says. “And then how we can help them, things like that and creating community-based solutions. [Just] using the knowledge that we already have to make our world better without drastically changing it.”

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