Nick Napolitano, provincial’s assistant for social ministries for the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces reflects on attending the Sept. 21 People’s Climate March in New York City, encouraging the next generation to think about their relationship with creation and the Jesuit call for prayer and action.
As Michelle and I crested the escalator at Columbus Circle coming up from the subway on our way to the People’s Climate March, carrying our two children, we saw a sea of people gathered as a faith contingent literally with an ark at the front of the crowd. There was a mosque, too. These two floats were leading more than 10,000 people of faith gathered together regardless of religious differences, with our shared concern for the future of the planet upon which we all live and worship. Jews, Catholics, Muslims and every stripe of Protestants were joined by Buddhists, Humanists, and Atheists. It was incredible to see the tantamount issue of caring for creation drawing such a diverse group of people.
Our daughters, Grace (nearly four) and Hannah (one-and-a-half), were summarily unimpressed with the crowd (to be fair, Hannah was sleeping), in spite of the host of musicians, singers, and prayers coming from the nearby stage. I’d like to think we have prepared our girls for these moments of social action, using songs from the civil rights era and Gospel music as part of our nightly bedtime routine. But soulful renditions of “We are Marching in the Light of God,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” weren’t enough to excite Grace. After a short nap, Hannah was pretty quick to start dancing in time to the music and clapping along.
As we waited to start the march alongside a Jewish mother of twins, I spotted a woman wearing a t-shirt from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I was wearing a shirt with JESUIT emblazoned across the front in bold letters. We struck up a conversation and learned that Malorie was a volunteer in Peru, near where Michelle served as a Jesuit Volunteer years before, in Northern Chile. As we began marching along the route, we began to encounter more and more groups connected to the Jesuits: a large crowd of students from Fordham University; a foursome of Jesuit scholastics in formation studying philosophy at Ciszek Hall in the Bronx. And while we didn’t encounter them, I knew there were groups marching from the Church of St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter’s Prep. At one point, one of the scholastics, Thomas Bambrick, SJ, climbed atop the shoulders of Ken Homan, SJ to get a better angle for a picture of the crowd of marchers stretching down 6th Avenue. I smiled thinking of how, just a few minutes before, I was walking with Grace on my shoulders so she could have a better sense of the magnitude of this “earth parade.”
Walking with the scholastics, I began to reflect further on how we, as individuals and through our connections to the Jesuits, can carry the energy, urgency and spirit of this day beyond. Thomas and Ken were among the two dozen Jesuit-affiliated individuals that attended a prayerful conversation the night before the march sponsored by the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces of the Jesuits: “Care for Creation for the Greater Glory of God.” The conversation brought together parishioners from the Church of St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius Church, staff from St. Peter’s Prep and Xavier High School, and Jesuits and lay colleagues.
In our conversation, we talked about the urgency to right our relationship with creation and with one other. We reflected on some concrete actions we can as individuals, communities and institutions to respond to this call. Equally important, we prayed for the courage to act boldly in protecting creation. We asked for forgiveness from God and each other for the many times we have taken for granted the wonder of the earth and all creation. We used holy water and communal blessings to more fully commit ourselves to changing the way we live and consume, to enter into deeper conversations at our institutions, and to advocate for policies that will move the U.S. toward a more sustainable way of living.
While Grace was more interested in the horse carriages in Central Park than the hundreds of thousands of people crying out to political leaders for coordinated action on climate change, I realized that it’s more important for us to continue these conversations as a family than for her to feel excitement about a march. In many ways, I think the same can be said for Jesuit communities and institutions on the East Coast: the People’s Climate March marked an opportunity for us to enter more deeply into prayer and discernment in order to right our relationship with creation.
I pray that you’ll join us in seizing this opportunity.
Those interested in ongoing work on ecological justice in their community or institution as well as participants from the march who wish to share their pictures and experiences can contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.