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October 25, 2021, Livonia, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, was part of a panel of Catholic leaders who engaged in a dialogue with U.S. Representative Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) during an October 19, 2021, webinar on climate action. During the hour-long program, the faith leaders discussed their communities’ efforts to combat climate change and heard from Rep. Stevens about her own efforts in Congress to help pass a number of climate initiatives in the Build Back Better Bill.
“Many religious [women and men] have embraced the moral imperative to care for all of God’s creation,” said Sister Janet, co-founder of Detroit-based Voices for Earth Justice. “Climate change is, first and foremost, a moral issue for us. The human and non-human community is suffering. Tackling climate change is the right thing to do for future generations.”
Sister Nancy Jamroz, CSSF, Co-director of the Center for Catholic Studies and Interfaith Dialogue at Madonna University in Livonia, moderated the webinar, which was coordinated by Madonna University. Also on the panel were Sister Jane Herb, IHM, President of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) and President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and Father Gilbert Sunghera, SJ, Superior of the Detroit Jesuit Community and Professor of Architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Father Gilbert provided background information on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, which challenges Catholics and all people of good will to be active in combatting the “existential crisis of global warming.” Father Gilbert said Laudato Si’ was written to challenge all people of faith, especially Catholics. The encyclical “positions the Catholic world view with the larger global trajectory toward finding a way to save the planet,” he said.
Sister Jane noted that the IHM Sisters and other congregations in LCWR – including the Adrian Dominican Sisters – have begun to announce their commitments to participate in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The seven-year plan – open to Catholic organizations such as dioceses, parishes, hospitals, universities, and religious congregations – is a “tool to adopt more sustainable practices,” Sister Jane said. The webinar is a “direct link” to the seventh of the seven goals – advocacy “to encourage the development of cultures and policies that will safeguard our Earth.”
Rep. Stevens joined in the dialogue, answering questions of the panelists and members of the audience and filling them in on the work of many in the U.S. Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act. The act includes policies and programs that would help in the fight against global climate change. “It’s an incredible opportunity for us to lower carbon emissions and get to Net Zero by 2030,” she said. “This is a perfect place for the United States of America to lead and for citizens to help lead.”
As a representative from Michigan, Rep. Stevens spoke particularly of the need for components of the act that would work toward safe infrastructure, clean air, and safe drinking water – especially in light of the recent news of the water crisis in Benton Harbor, Michigan, whose population is predominantly African American.
In answer to Sister Janet’s concern about repeating the great injustice that people of color are affected disproportionately by environmental disasters and the economy, Rep. Stevens spoke of the need to learn from past mistakes. “We are reckoning with the challenges of a built environmental system” that needs to be renovated, she said. This includes replacing lead pipes and cleaning up contaminated Superfund sites such as landfills “that are disproportionately poisoning communities of color.”
Rep. Stevens said members of Congress have been working hard on legislation that would address many of those challenges. “We need a climate bill,” she said. “We experienced the worst [forest] fire season last year and this year. This is not going to be sustainable for us and we can take steps right now not to accept this as status quo.”
Rep. Stevens noted the importance not only of passing a climate bill, but also of empowering communities to work on environmental issues and working with people of faith.
“Now more than ever we need to hear more from our faith leaders and communities of faith,” she said. “I see them leading on a moral imperative, but also tap dancing in the political world.” Noting the country’s efforts to separate church and state, she said that the circles of faith and politics overlap in vital issues such as global climate change. “That’s what inspires me so much in terms of why I seek to elevate the voices of religious leaders and faith leaders in Washington.”
Asked how she responds to opposition to her efforts to address climate change, Rep. Stevens said, “When we talk about morality and we think about courage, we also have to do so with positivity, through light and love. We don’t need to be angry. We don’t need to be afraid. We need to create a vision like we did with the moon [landing] … Americans are capable of doing big things.”
Caption for feature photo at top: Participants in the panel included, clockwise from top left, Sister Jane Herb, IHM, Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, Sister Nancy Jamroz, CSSF, and Father Gilbert Sunghera, SJ.