Care for Creation in Camden

By Alex Mancuso

After graduating from Siena College with a degree in environmental studies, I became a volunteer with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry in Camden, N.J. Living the Franciscan tradition, I serve the poor at St. Anthony of Padua Parish. During my time here I have witnessed St. Anthony’s growing as an environmentally conscious parish. Through the Friends of Francis club that I created, students and parishioners have opportunities to learn more about the environment and become enthusiastic about protecting our precious earth. With a successful Earth Week at St. Anthony’s, the future of caring for creation looks bright!

Earth Week kicked off on Earth Day, which conveniently fell on a Sunday. The parish pastors, Fr. Jud and Fr. Hugh, each gave inspirational homilies about how important it is to care for God’s creation. The school choir, which consists of several 2nd and 3rd graders from St. Anthony of Padua School, sang “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” Parishioners were invited to repeat each verse the children sang. The verses emphasized natural elements that St. Francis deeply appreciated. At the conclusion of the song, children from the congregation were selected to read a few compelling environmental facts aloud. Our parishioners were really captivated! It was nice to have planted a seed with them about environmental issues and ways they can make a difference.

During the week, students had the opportunity to participate in some fun “environmental activities.” Each day at dismissal students were introduced to a different theme. For example, one day each student was given a pot and filled it with soil to plant an herb seed of their choice. They were beyond thrilled that they could keep the pot and take it home. The theme of gardening was familiar to the children because many of their parents have a plot in Br. Jerry’s Community Garden across the street. Another day the students played a game in which they had to decide where the piece of garbage belonged. It could either go in the trash, be recycled, or be composted. By the end of the week the children were running up to the table at dismissal with anticipation of what we would do that day. Each day we had about 30-40 students visit our table and participate. The smiles on their faces were an indication that more events like this must take place at St. Anthony’s. The children are enthusiastic about caring for creation and want to learn more!

In addition to the daily activities for all students, Friends of Francis members were given a special opportunity to visit the Center for Environmental Transformation. Located in south Camden, the center leads various efforts towards raising environmental awareness. The greenhouse on the property serves as an excellent teaching tool to show children and adults how plants grow. They even grow native plants for rain gardens and vegetables to plant in community gardens. The kids were amazed that in such a small space so much can be accomplished. They even got to hold chickens, which was definitely their highlight. It was great to show the students that there are places in Camden to learn about sustainability and other community environmental issues.

The final piece to Earth week involved showing various environmental themed movies and invited all parishioners and students. The three movie nights shed light on the big picture of taking care of the earth, specific locations that contain species struggling to survive due to global climate change, and the dangers of mining in Bolivia. On the night with the most attendance, youth from St. Anthony’s teen confirmation class and young adults from our youth group watched Devil’s Miner. It was a story highlighting the struggles of two young Bolivian boys who work in a mine. What an incredible story! It really opened the eyes of our youth to struggles of children their age in other countries and the environmental impacts of mining.

How wonderful it was to witness the spreading of environmental knowledge among the Camden community. Earth Week provided the perfect setting for children to be inspired to care for the world around them. Many seeds were planted during the week and with the continuation of environmental activities, St. Anthony’s is sure to grow people who care for creation.

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Published in: on May 18, 2012 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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