Laudato si’ Circle in Assisi: a gift serving the poor and creation
Giada Aquilino – Vatican City
We can all collaborate as “God’s instruments” in caring for creation, everyone with their own “initiatives and capabilities”. Pope Francis’s words about the commitment to care for our common home in the Encyclical Laudato si’ is what motivates Antonio Caschetto, Program Coordinator for the Italian Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and leader of the Laudato si’ Circle in Assisi. Originally from Sicily, Antonio who is in his forties, is an architect, and now lives in Umbria with his wife and two children. He says paragraph 14 of the Pope’s document is “particularly dear” to him. It references the South African Bishops’ 1999 pastoral statement on the environmental crisis. He maintains that personal involvement and talent – that is, “the gifts that God has given to each of us” – are “needed” today to repair the harm we have caused to God’s creation.
The Global Catholic Climate Movement
For Anthony, the Pope’s call to action means not “only” implementing professional projects to reduce the harm done to the environment. Rather, it was above a call that rekindled and fed a “fire already present” in his life due to his past experiences of teaching Italian to asylum seekers, of being a tour guide at the Shrine of the Renunciation in Assisi, and from meeting in 2018 with the Global Catholic Climate Movement out of which the Laudato si’ Circle began in Assisi. This group consists of people who regularly get together to explore their relationship with the Creator and others in the light of the 2015 Encyclical, moved by the need to urgently address climate change and the ecological crisis.
Connecting to create a network
“The Laudato si’ Circle has its headquarters at the Sanctuary of the Renunciation – Santa Maria Maggiore (St Mary Major) Parish, which is the place where St. Francis renounced all his goods and stripped himself in the square”. There, where Blessed Carlo Acutis’s body reposes, the Circle began “to create a network”, to connect “both the organizations in Assisi that are dedicated to taking care of our common home – that means the associations, the diocese, offices – and other Circles throughout Italy”, numbering over a hundred out of about 500 throughout the world.
With the help of his spiritual father, Fra Carlos Acacio Gonçalves Ferreira, who comes from the Amazon, Antonio spoke with Vatican News about the Circle’s “family atmosphere”. There are generally around fifteen participants who “exchange” experiences among themselves. “Each person”, he explains, “involves the others in a way that is ‘contagious’ ”. This type of contagion, given today’s pandemic, takes on new light.
“The Circle”, he says, “is based on three pillars. The first is prayer: prayer makes us aware as we contemplate the beauty that surrounds us and at the same time challenges us to hear the cry of the earth, the cry of the poor. Then there is a moment for reflection on our styles of life, then on action with proposals. The Circle has become a type of forum in which everyone provides information – for example, regarding the use of detergents, on curbing the use of plastic, on how meat is wasted – and then these reflections are transformed into concrete actions”.
These Circles thus become a “laboratory” where, for example, detergents made with “organic ingredients”, “without chemicals” as well as “reflections” regarding the repercussions our habits have on the environment, are tested. For example, he remembers, “During Lent last year – dedicated also to ‘fasting from irresponsible consumerism’ – after one of the Masses in our parish, we projected a video on the carbon footprint generated by high-levels of meat production, which then causes greenhouse gas emissions”. He continues: “with contributions prepared by our children, we have created a small blog dedicated to the reduction of the use of plastic in various areas, for example, as packaging for gifts”.
The Queen of Peace House
Antonio is also the author of Vivi Laudato Si’ (Living Laudato Si’), a book steeped in Franciscan spirituality on Pope Francis’s Encyclical. He also trains Laudato si’ Animators who have been attracted by the call to integral ecology to put themselves at the service of the community. Caschetto recalls that among the activities of the Circle in Assisi is a collaboration with various associations, in particular with a Foundation – the Queen of Peace House – “which welcomes people in need, the poor, the homeless and even pilgrims. We began a process together that calls us to concrete action”. He spoke about how they “support the House, located in the San Damiano zone, near the place where St. Francis embraced the leper. Two women manage it. Both have the immense desire to dedicate themselves to others, to welcome people everyone else rejects, who have economic difficulties: Tiziana, originally from Bergamo, has a beautiful story connected with an ecological conversion with the Amazon and who donated her own property for the Queen of Peace House to welcome those in need. The other woman’s name is Rosario She is a very prayerful woman”. Assuring a service welcoming guests to the House is of primary importance for the members of the Laudato Si’ Circle: “the number always varies, roughly a dozen people, sometimes there are even 15-20 when there are pilgrims”, Antonio explains.
During the Season of Creation 2020 last September a Laudato Si’ Garden was inaugurated in the “pleasant” nature surrounding San Damiano, Antonio recalls. “We gave life to this garden on a plot of land of the Queen of Peace House. We did not separate the land into lots, everyone shares it, we work together and share the produce with those in need and with members of the Circle”.
The idea behind this initiative was once again one of “contagion”: the people who work this land “will be a stimulus for those who did not work it but who have nonetheless benefitted from the earth’s produce, thus being encouraged to get involved the following season”, Antonio explains. “We are trying to implement an educational process, even getting schools, parishes and pilgrims involved. Last summer, for example, a group of pilgrims got involved with the garden – about fifteen young people from Pordenone were here for a spiritual retreat at San Damiano. They stayed for several days and expressed the desire to help out. So, they worked the land for half a day and had the joy of planting the first seed, an olive tree, in memory of their presence”.
The Season of Creation “was a special time” for the Laudato si’ Circle in Assisi. Antonio Caschetto says he still feels the effects of that time every day. “There was an ecumenical prayer service with the Bishop of Assisi, Domenico Sorrentino, and other ecumenical entities, Anglicans and Orthodox. It was a joint effort and involved both Assisi and Cannara, and Piandarca in particular, the place where St Francis preached to the birds. We seek to be leaven in the Church, however discretely. When connections are created, it is important that they develop during the year. A result of this ecumenical prayer was that plants and seedlings were given to certain organizations who work for the care of our common home”. This commitment continues even today as a sign of that collaboration as God’s instruments that the Pope wants.
(This Video was recorded prior to the measures adopted to combat the Covid-19 crisis)