In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis called for conversations between believers about how we are shaping the future of our planet. Over Benedictine’s Fall Break, the Center for Integral Ecology provided students an opportunity to come together and have these conversations, based on the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Co-sponsored with the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL), the Center for Integral Ecology hosted a colloquium weekend on the topic of Religion and Ecology titled “Recovering Integrity of Life in Ourselves and in Creation.” Eleven students, about half from Benedictine and half from nearby universities, spent the weekend discussing the Church’s teaching on care for Creation.
The students prepared by reading works from writers such as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Pope Francis, contemporary scholar Christopher Thompson, and novelist Wendell Berry, all of whom provided unique perspectives on the topic. The weekend was filled with sessions of discussion, facilitated by staff from both Benedictine and UNL.
Center co-director Dr. Matthew Ramage, one of the primary facilitators of the weekend, said that conversations were both deep and lively, adding that “there was never a dull moment over the course of the weekend’s discussions—both the formal ones and those that took place over breaks.”
Conversations about the intersection of Religion and Ecology drew students from all backgrounds. Ramage observed that “it was very unique to hear insights being brought to bear from individuals majoring in fields from theology to engineering to English, psychology, evolutionary biology, nursing, and beyond.” One of those students, a Benedictine sophomore and aspiring biology teacher Leah Mages, reflected on the weekend, saying that she hopes to encourage her students someday “to think more about the environment around them, how to take care of it in an integral way, and to cherish it better.”
One of Mages’s biggest takeaways from the discussions was the need to resist, as Pope Francis terms it, throwaway culture: “We cannot be drawn into the consumerist, throwaway culture, but rather must act more generationally—meaning embracing a way of producing and preserving for our own and future generations as a cycle. We cannot think indifferently about this Earth we live on, but must respect the dignity of how we use the resources the Earth gives us and how we give back.”
Ramage hopes that this weekend will help the Center for Integral Ecology continue to make an impact on Benedictine’s campus and beyond in several ways. He said that “the experience served to demonstrate to students that integral ecology—care for the created order as well as the most vulnerable humans within it—is a vital feature of Catholicism that merits serious attention and which can be addressed with academic rigor in a uniquely interdisciplinary way.” He also hopes that “this event is not just a one-time affair but that we can replicate it in the future for the benefit of more students—and thereby ultimately for the good of the rest of us.”