TOLEDO — Hundreds gathered Sunday at Holy Rosary Cathedral for a prayer service for Christian unity preceded by a reflection on Pope Francis’’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” (Care for Our Common Home).

The gathering was also a celebration of the covenant between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Northwest Ohio synod and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo. The two religious bodies signed the original document in 2001, so this year marks the 15th anniversary of the covenant.

The featured speaker was Greg Hitzhusen, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Professional Practicing in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University.

He told those gathered his is the only such position anywhere in the world. His work focuses on the intersection of faith and the environment and developing partnerships between scientific and faith communities.

The pope’s encyclical focuses on the need for all people to focus on the needs of the plant and other environmental issues.

“There has been a positive reaction from the interfaith community to the encyclical,” Hitzhusen said.

He spoke of the positive reaction from various denominations from Jewish, Islamic and other protestant denominations. That includes a Lutheran study guide on the document.

“Response has also been overwhelmingly positive from outside faith community circles — for instance, communities of scientists have been very pleased — presidents of the Ecological Society of America, of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and of the American Chemical Society have all written commendations in praise of Laudato Si’ and we suspect that the American Chemical Society was happy to point out that the pope has had graduate-level training in chemistry,” the speaker said.

“This encyclical ... is the ‘go to’ document,” Hitzhusen said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

He also said the document speaks to the “fragility of Earth” as well as its ensuing “fragility of the poor.”

Clarifying, the speaker said, “When we see how the environmental issues dispassionately affect the pour.”

He summarized the document noting Pope Francis calls not caring for the planet a “sin against God” and said the document is “an encyclical of ‘C’s. Continuity, Collegiality, Care, ecological Conversion, environmental Citizenship and Celebration. You need all of this to institute positive change,” Hitzhusen said. “This is a comprehensive document.”

He added that those who have read and studied the encyclical have only begun to scratch the surface as it is very complex and filled with social dynamics.

“So I think our basic orientation to God’s creation is a really key starting point — a posture of appreciation, praise, and openness can make all the difference not only in how we respond to the need to care for creation, but probably helps determine whether we will make any effort to care for creation. And discovering God’s presence amid the gift of creation helps us develop an openness to that posture, and moves us to greater care,” Hitzhusen said.

He noted the “care” aspect includes more than ““stewardship.”

He said, “Francis calls us to become ‘painfully aware ... to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering.’ This makes me think of how Jesus showed compassion from his gut when he encountered gut-wrenching needs in others”

He closed his remarks in part, saying “I encourage everyone to read the encyclical, or to re-read it — use it for a 6-week adult study series at your church, taking one chapter per week… pray, study, read, and then dialogue again and again, and do so with others from outside your communities. And then move to action and work… Let us not fear to forge ahead, taking steps of faith – ours is a God who sees us, who hears us, who is present to us and whose spirit helps us understand and find the way. ... Commentators are just beginning to do justice to the depth of Laudato Si’, so too are our faith communities just beginning to do justice to what we can do together to care for our common home.”

Also speaking at the event was Debbie Conklin, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Bowling Green. She addressed subjects related to the encyclical such as saving money to be used for other things by cutting electric usage for churches, noting the Ohio Interfaith Power and Light group for which Hitzhusen serves as chair.

Rob Timbrook and his daughter, Anna, members of All Saints Catholic Parish in Rossford also spoke at the event. They spoke about the Franciscan Garden established at their parish which provides fresh vegetables in season for those who are served by its food pantry.

The program was followed by the Prayer for Christian Unity Prayer service.

(Note: A story on the prayer service as well as reaction to the joint event by people in attendance will be published at a later date.)

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