By Heather Walker
ROME — Two oak saplings were planted on the grounds of the Passionist monastery, where The Lay Centre is located, to commemorate last year’s opening of a Laudato Si’ Garden in northeast Italy as part of the churchwide Laudato Si’ Year, which is coming to a close this month.
The saplings were donated by Lay Centre scholars Marianna Beltrami and Elena Batani, who spent the past few months interning at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which sponsored the Laudato Si’ Garden.
The brief ceremony, held May 1, was attended by Lay Centre Director Donna Orsuto, members of The Lay Centre community and members of the Passionist community. Father Joachim Rego, cp, superior general of the Passionists, led a moment of prayer.
The joint tree planting event was significant for both the Passionists, who are celebrating their 300th anniversary this year, and The Lay Centre, celebrating 35 years since its foundation. The saplings, planted in a special area in the gardens of the Passionist monastery perched atop the Caelian Hill, highlight the commitment of both groups to the call of “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” the first-ever papal encyclical dedicated entirely to care for creation.
During the ceremony, Beltrami offered this short reflection:
These oak saplings were given to us to commemorate the inauguration of the Laudato Si’ Garden, along the River Po Delta. On October 4, 2020, we celebrated the desire and commitment of the inhabitants of that area to live alongside an environment that evolves, without imposing their own changes.
Why this gift of oak saplings? Why should we gather together to plant a tree? Quite simply, trees are oxygen and they breathe. And since the Earth is a reflection of God the Creator, it is a way to stop, breathe, and feel that God himself is our oxygen and breath. God speaks to us through these delicate and fragile biochemical processes, of which we are an integral part. And if we damage these processes, through models that make us forget about this simple breath and its generative force, we damage everything that is a part of it: creation, people within creation, and all our social and ecological ties.
Fundamentally, “Laudato Si’” tells us this. It tells us that we need a radical conversion, which might easily start with a small gesture such as this one, making us acknowledge that God is oxygen and breath, and that what makes us alive is a sacred process, of which we are all part as a “caress of God” (“Laudato Si’”, 84).
At the inauguration of the Laudato Si’ Garden in northeast Italy last year, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the dicastery, congratulated everyone involved. Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, coordinator of the dicastery’s ecology and creation sector, highlighted the “spiritual significance of the garden.”
Father Kureethadam, who was also the main organizer of the churchwide Laudato Si’ Year, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the publication of the encyclical, spoke of the garden as a place “where we are with the Creator, with God himself,” but also “in community, with the people near us and communion with the Earth.”
Several faith communities around the globe planted Laudato Si’ Gardens throughout this Laudato Si’ Year, which began in May 2020. The special year will close with Laudato Si’ Week 2021, which will run from May 16 to May 25. The theme is, “For we know that things can change.” Virtual events are planned to take place each day.
On May 25, the dicastery is also expected to unveil its “Laudato Si’ Action Platform,” encouraging Catholic organizations, dioceses, parishes, families and individuals to achieve certain sustainability benchmarks.
Photos courtesy Lay Centre scholars