“Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickenings of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.” - Pope Francis

      Pope Francis' encyclical on fraternity and social friendship was first published in 2015. It specifically addressed Catholic social teaching, including caring for the environment and the virtue of peacemaking. The Social Teaching Ecclesial Commission of the Diocese of Gary is preparing to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the encyclical in a big way with a free conference titled Laudato Sí On Care for Our Common Home that will take place on Oct. 9 in Michigan City.

      The Social Teaching Commission has traditionally organized a day-long conference every year. The conference in 2019 focused on the subject of charity and went so well that the commission is hoping to duplicate and build on its success. It will utilize the same format and location - Queen of All Saints.

      It was an easy and logical decision for the Social Teaching Commission to focus on the pope’s encyclical Laudato Sí this year. With September being the start of the Season of Creation, members felt fall would be an appropriate time to host the event. The annual call to prayer and action begins on Sept. 1 and extends through Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

      “Recently the pope came out saying that every parish in the world is supposed to be addressing Laudato Sí and trying to figure out an action plan, so this is really timely as well for our diocese to try and get parishes together to figure out what they can do to move forward with teaching the encyclical,” explained Tricia Massa, member of the Social Teaching Commission.

      Deacon Dan Lowery explained the Social Teaching Commission is tasked with advancing the seven principles of Catholic social teaching in the diocese – life and dignity of the human person; call to family; community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; and solidarity. The seventh – care for God's creation – addresses the environment.

      “The timing is perfect for this with the anniversary of Laudato Sí coming up and the Season of Creation,” he said. “We couldn’t do (a conference) last year due to COVID and this topic made the most sense for the coming year.”

      Father Daniel P. Horan, OFM, Ph.D., will give the keynote address focusing on “The Theology of Laudato Sí.” Father Horan is the director of the Center for Spirituality and professor of philosophy, religious studies, and theology at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame. He previously held the Duns Scotus Chair of Spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He is a columnist for National Catholic Reporter and the author of fourteen books.

      Some of the members of the Social Teaching Commission have already had the privilege of hearing Father Horan speak and are excited to have him be a part of the conference.

      “He is extremely well-regarded on the topic and he’s just going to knock it out of the park,” explained Beth Casbon, moderator for the Social Teaching Commission.

      “He’s a tremendous speaker,” added Lowery.

      Following the keynote address, there will be breakout sessions that delve into other environmental issues. Julie Pella, Ph.D., an instructor at Valparaiso University, will address “The Science Behind Laudato Sí” and Michael Griffin, clerk-treasure of Highland, will address “The Public Policy Challenge in Front of Laudato Sí.” The afternoon breakout sessions will focus on topics “What can I do? Spirituality and Lifestyle” and “What can we do? Advocacy and Ministry.”

      “We have some really great speakers from all over that are going to come and address their specific area,” said Casbon. “They are experts in those particular areas.”

      Along with plenty of learning opportunities, the conference was also designed to allow time for those in attendance to network while enjoying a continental breakfast in the morning and again while eating lunch in the afternoon. These various sessions and discussions will lead participants to create an action plan for implementing the key messages of Laudato Sí’ at their parish.

      The Social Teaching Commission also wants to reach the youth of the diocese through this event and has been working closely with the Youth and Young Adults Commission.

      “We are hoping to engage our young people, not only for their energy, but also for their great ideas and vision,” Casbon said.

      During a Youth/Young Adult Observers Feedback session scheduled for the end of the conference, both commissions hope to encourage and learn more from the youth of the diocese and those who work closely with them.

      “We are hoping that going forward, the curriculum in our Catholic schools and in our faith formation programs can include all areas of social teaching, of course, but also specifically include issues about the environment,” said Casbon.

      Dr. Joseph Majchrowicz, diocesan superintendent of schools, shared that information about the conference has been given to all school principals, and he has already received several positive responses.

      “I am hoping to get representation from all of our areas - Northlake, Southlake, Porter, LaPorte,” he said. “I know there were four or five letters of interest, so there will definitely be representation from the teachers in our schools.”

      Casbon believes that while it is important for the Social Teaching Commission to continue addressing key issues, it is also important to continue brainstorming ways those issues can be included into the curriculum for younger generations. She used the topic of racism as an example.

      “We need to be teaching our children about the Catholic philosophy on racism,” said Casbon. “Not just preaching in the pews but bringing them up with the idea of Catholic social teaching through our schools and through our religious education programs.”

      Laudato Sí On Care for Our Common Home will start with Mass at 8 a.m. celebrated by Bishop Robert J. McClory. There is no charge to attend, but pre-registration is requested. To register, contact Kathy LaFakis at 769-9292 or click here. Deadline is September 1.