NORTON: The Earth He has given to the sons of mankind

April 11, 2023

(Herald file photo)

On Jan. 28, 1969, a Union Oil well six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out, spilling over three million gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. The ecological disaster that followed was catastrophic in scale, killing over 10,000 dolphins, seabirds, seals and sea lions.

It was this disaster that led activist John McConnell to propose a global holiday to both celebrate and protect Earth’s life and beauty. The son of a Pentecostal preacher, McConnell was a lifetime believer in care for the environment, founded in his Christian beliefs and backed up by such passages as Psalms 115:16, “the earth He has given to the sons of mankind.”

To care for the Earth is deeply rooted in our Catholic beliefs; Nowhere is this made more explicitly clear than in Pope Francis’s second encyclical, Laudato Si’ (Praise Be to You), in which he laments environmental degradation, climate change and calls on the world to take swift and unified global action. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it.”

In the letter, Pope Francis speaks of the role of environmental education, with a goal to restore “ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God.” He describes “nobility” in “little daily actions” and the wonderful way in which “education can bring about real changes in lifestyle” and goes so far as to list classic examples, such as “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.”

An incredible amount of humility is required in taking these little daily actions into practice, but the importance is grave, and the effects accumulate with a unified effort. It is why “ecological education” plays such an important part in Pope Francis’s letter. This education “can take place in a variety of settings: at school, in families, in the media, in catechesis and elsewhere.”

Founded in 1981, the School of Environment Education at Camp Kappe, located in Plantersville, has been teaching these very principles to fifth graders from Catholic schools across the Archdiocese for over 40 years. With approximately 1,200 students who pass through Camp Kappe per year, that adds up to roughly 50,000 students who have shared in this eco-conscious spiritual experience.

In addition to outdoor activities such as archery, canoeing and orienteering, Camp Kappe teaches that the Earth is a gift from God and should be treated as a precious gift. Students learn that we are all stewards of the Earth and that each of us has the power to make a change on this planet for the better. Maybe that change is ecological, finding simple and easy ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. Maybe that change is social, finding ways to serve and lift up children of God in need. Whatever it may be, these children — and our faith’s future — will indeed walk from Camp Kappe with a glowing appreciation for God and all His glorious, beautiful creation. 

Preston Norton is an instructor at the School of Environment Education at Camp Kappe.