Giada Aquilino – Vatican City
The Laudato si’ “nelle Selve” Circle of the parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Selva Candida, on the northwest outskirts of Rome, celebrates its first anniversary during these days, marking one of the fruits of the 2020 Season of Creation. The 2021 edition is dedicated to the theme "A home for all? Renewing the Oikos of God". Fr. Federico Tartaglia, parish priest here for three years and a Laudato si' animator of this movement - formerly the Global Catholic Climate Movement - does not see the anniversary as a goal for which budgets are drawn up, but as an impetus to move forward. "I look to the future we have just started. We have done nothing compared to what is at stake, the environmental crisis and the social one. If we are faced with a tragedy, we must be totally radical to grasp God in a blade of grass, to take a break, to have a lifestyle that goes to the essentials and is sober," referring to that "healthy sobriety" with which Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato si' exhorts us to characterize "our relationship to the world" (126).
The parish belongs to the suburbicarian Diocese of Porto-Santa Rufina. Fr. Federico explains that it "is absolutely central to the life of the people here with around 100,000 inhabitants” and that in some ways “is a periphery of the outskirts, compared to the nearby town of Casalotti, which is perhaps better known. Ours is a reality that came about in the fifties and sixties, and over the past 20 years has come alive again with new people moving in. Very large numbers of Romans have left the city to live here. It is a so-called 'dormitory' area, with few facilities because many are in the center, in Casal del Marmo street, or over in Casalotti, such as the schools. But it's a good suburb with good people who work, young people who study, some immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe or South America, who work with local families".
Enthusiasm and energy
In this environment Fr. Federico says the parish offers a dynamic context with "a park that is visited every day by hundreds of families and used for catechism, soccer school, other sports, and social activities, a kindergarten, Caritas, visits to the sick and the elderly, and so forth. It is the only reality that somehow mobilizes people across all walks of life". One time last summer after he had offered some reflections at Mass, Fr. Federico said "a parishioner of mine, Giuseppe Morelli, told me about the Laudato si' groups and the training course for animators of the Laudato si' Movement, which I then followed with other parishioners. We began to donate copies of Pope Francis' encyclical and the idea for our own group came about. Within a few weeks and during the Season of Creation we started it initially with seven members. Now we are about forty and people are thrilled, full of enthusiasm and energy."
Laudato si’ “nelle Selve” Circle is based on three pillars: contemplation, reflection, and action," explains Emanuela Chiang, a Laudato si' animator, referring to the insights of the Laudato si' Movement. With a Chinese father, originally from Taiwan, and an Italian mother, she had experience with the Salesians at the International Volunteers for Development (VIS) organization in the field of migration and Middle Eastern issues. Emanuela also obtained a Joint Diploma in Integral Ecology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, as have Fr. Federico and other parishioners. Recently she started assisting at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and immediately got busy with the creation of the group. She says, "Contemplation implies a prayer for creation and assessing our relationship with it. The parish's Laudato si' Garden inaugurated last May was also created for this to encourage and return to the contemplation of creation."
The cry of the earth and the poor
"Speaking of reflection, in our meetings we dwell on a particular theme, such as water, earth, fire, air, focusing on it with respect to our individual and social behaviors. We have many discussions about our consumption and learning more about eco-sustainable agriculture. Then we conclude our meetings by developing concrete proposals, regarding for example the cleaning of the neighborhood and the reduction of plastic. We have also done it in the parish with the beverage vending machines, also with alternative shopping in an organic and zero km sense. We encourage the use of water bottles instead of disposable bottles and sensitize adults and children on these issues.” He says, “With the young people we have organized the cleaning of the public park in the area. Equipped with gloves, bags, and various equipment, the children have given a hand to clean up the area. Then they have colored the fences with chalk. We also learned how to make dish soap at home, using salt, lemon, and vinegar, and we circulated the 'recipe' among all our families." Pope Francis' encyclical on caring for our common home "also guides us," he emphasizes, "to a special focus on the poor, working with Caritas and other parishes in aiding the homeless at the Termini Station meal center.”
The Laudato si' Groups
The Pope's 2015 encyclical also calls for a special trust in children, whose potential is a seed that can “continue to bear fruit throughout life " (213). "One of the most interesting fruits of our commitment, a spontaneous fruit I would say, has been the creation of the children’s Laudato si' “little” Circles, the first experiment of its kind in Italy, the first flower of this reality linked to the Laudato si' Movement. There are 20 to 25 children from elementary and middle schools who are passionate about our activities. Together, we contemplate nature, through our beautiful park, looking at the sky, the trees, the flowers, watering them and taking care of them, drawing the roses that have been planted here in memory of our loved ones, there are about a hundred of them, and shooting videos to raise awareness". A tireless commitment that young people and adults of the group made known to the Pope when participating at the General Audience in the San Damaso Courtyard at the Vatican on a warm day at the end of June.
The link with Saint Francis
A few days earlier there was also another special event for the parish community. At the inauguration of the Laudato si' Garden, a precious relic of the body of St. Francis, the Poverello of Assisi, was set in the altar immersed in the greenery and remembered here with a ceramic mosaic. Presiding over the celebration was Bishop Gianrico Ruzza, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Porto-Santa Rufina. "It was a small sign, a beginning, that I hope can spread because this is a concrete way to realize what Pope Francis asks of us" in Laudato si', highlights Bishop Ruzza.
Bishop Ruzza says Pope Francis "asks us to respond to the urgency of the destruction of creation that we are witnessing. Personally, I am very concerned about how the climate is changing, about the situation of our brothers and sisters who are seeking help fleeing from desertification, about poverty that is increasing more and more. We need to realize that there is no more time." He says it is time that "we all make a commitment” to do something about it.
"If what's really at stake is the survival of the poor, the survival of the planet, and biodiversity, it's not a matter of a simple restoration," echoes Fr. Tartaglia. "It's about totally transforming ourselves, being totally involved in changing our lives," he stresses. "Integral conversion,” he says, “can only be spiritual, because it is about living in a Christian way, as Jesus told us, in a Franciscan way, even in an unpopular way. Only if the human heart takes time to contemplate, develops an appreciation for this beauty that surrounds us, and becomes morally motivated towards action, can there be hope for an integral conversion" of ourselves and others.