Celebrating the inaugural Green Mass for the Archdiocese of Washington on Oct. 3, 2020 on the eve of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell Jr. noted he has a personal connection with the patron saint for caring for the environment, because he chose that saint’s name as his Confirmation name years ago.

And in his homily, Bishop Campbell said that those who seek to follow Jesus and walk in his footsteps as His disciples in today’s world have a special connection as people of faith to that legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, because they are called to reflect Jesus’s love “in the love and care you have for one another, and the love and care you have for God’s creation.”

Since that vigil Mass was for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Bishop Campbell and Deacon Steven Nash who assisted him at the Mass wore green vestments. Welcoming people to the Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Largo, Maryland, where he serves as pastor, Bishop Campbell noted how critical caring for the environment is, and he pointed to the wildfires in the western United States, which this year according to the New York Times have burned more than 5 million acres in Washington state, Oregon and California.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Social Concerns sponsored the Green Mass celebrating God’s gift of creation and people’s responsibility to care for it, and in addition to parishioners of St. Joseph, the congregation included several members of the archdiocese’s Care for Creation Committee. The Mass goers followed the strict safety measures in effect at local Catholic churches during the coronavirus pandemic, all wearing face masks, having their temperatures taken before entering the church, and sitting at marked social distances in the pews. The Mass was live streamed by the parish.

People pray at St. Joseph Church in Largo, Maryland, during the Oct. 3, 2020 Green Mass celebrating God's gift of creation and humanity's responsibility to care for it. (CS photos/Mihoko Owada)

In his homily, Bishop Campbell pointed to that day’s Gospel reading which told of Jesus’s parable of tenants not caring for the master’s vineyard, saying that today’s tenants are the people of the Earth, who should recognize that all they have, including the Earth, is a gift to them from God, and they must be thankful for those gifts and be good stewards of them. The bishop noted how St. Francis of Assisi who preached to the birds and tamed the wolf saw God’s presence in nature, and in the “Canticle of the Sun” attributed to St. Francis, he used poetic language like “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon” to highlight people’s connection to God’s gift of creation.

Bishop Campbell said Pope Francis’s landmark 2015 encyclical on ecology, “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home,” emphasized that “wherever we live on the planet, the Earth is our home.”

The pope in that encyclical issued an urgent call to action for people to protect the environment and address issues like global warming, the bishop said, adding that the dramatic melting of polar ice and the increasingly destructive wildfires and hurricanes impacting the United States show the danger of inaction.

Earlier that day, Pope Francis traveled to Assisi to celebrate Mass and sign his new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.” The new encyclical reflects many of the themes Pope Francis has been discussing in his general audience talks on Catholic social teaching in light of the pandemic, including the equal dignity of all people as brothers and sisters and the obligation of solidarity, especially toward the poor. 

In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis noted, “To care for the world in which we live means to care for ourselves. Yet we need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home...” (#17)

Bishop Campbell in his homily used imagery of nature, noting, “God has planted His law of love in our hearts, so we his tenants can bear the good fruit of love and mercy.” 

At left, Genevieve Mougey, the director of the Archdiocese of Washington's Office for Social Concerns, prepares to receive Communion from Bishop Roy Campbell Jr., at right, during the Oct. 3, 2020 Green Mass at St. Joseph Church in Largo sponsored by that office. Next to the bishop is Deacon Steven Nash. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

After Communion, Bishop Campbell recited Pope Francis’s “A prayer for our earth,” from the end of Laudato Si’, which begins:

“All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
 and in the smallest of your creatures.
 You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
 Pour out upon us the power of your love,
 that we may protect life and beauty.
 Fill us with peace, that we may live
 as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
 O God of the poor,
 help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth…”

The closing song at the Mass was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

Afterward, Genevieve Mougey, the director of the archdiocese’s Office for Social Concerns, noted the importance of having a Green Mass, saying it reflects how Catholics can share “a common understanding of stewardship and responsibility for the Earth.”

She added, “It’s beautiful we can make these connections between the liturgy and our teaching. This is intimately woven into our identity as Catholics.”

A key responsibility for her office will be to help produce a Laudato Si’ action plan for parishes and parishioners to help people live out its message in their daily lives, similar to what the Archdiocese of Atlanta did when it was led by Archbishop Wilton Gregory before he became the archbishop of Washington in 2019. That action plan for Catholics in Atlanta was one of the first such plans formulated by a U.S. diocese in response to Pope Francis’s ecology encyclical, and Mougey said the archdiocese has been collaborating with laity, including members of its Care for Creation Committee, in drawing up the plan for Catholics in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery.

The Archdiocese of Washington's inaugural Green Mass on Oct. 3, 2020 was celebrated on the eve of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint for caring for the environment, who is seen in a statue at St. Joseph Parish in Largo, which hosted the Mass. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Before the liturgy, Deacon Steve Nash noted that he was glad the archdiocese was having a Green Mass. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Princeton University and wrote a thesis on the African wild dog, an endangered species.

“It was very apparent to me in my study, if man did not take care of the world, a lot of these delicate species would be extinct,” he said.

Deacon Nash said humanity’s responsibility for caring for the environment can be seen in the creation story in Genesis. “He (God) gives us this Earth to take care of, to have dominion over, not to take advantage of …,” he said.

After the Mass, Rhett Engelking, a member of St. Augustine Parish in Washington, D.C., who serves on the archdiocese’s Care for Creation Committee, said the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic is related to the world’s failure to address the ecological crisis.

“What this pandemic is telling us is how we’ve neglected the connection between climate change and public health,” he said, adding that he believes “a lot of our major world catastrophes are linked to excess carbon (emissions) and just a real lack of public policy.”

Noting how Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ encyclical has spurred Catholic and interfaith efforts to protect the environment, Engelking said, “The root of the Green movement within the Catholic Church is recognizing how disconnected we’ve become from the fate of the planet and the fate of the poor… Pope Francis talked about hearing the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Celebrating a Green Mass, he said, highlights that connection, a point shared by Angela Wilson-Turnbull, also a parishioner of St. Augustine and a member of the Care for Creation Committee.

“As we sustain the Earth, we must also ensure protections for the poor,” she said.

Noting the urgency of that work, Wilson-Turnbull said, “Every single person has the power to make profound change in our families, our Church and our community that will have a lasting impact.”