A garden dedicated to integral ecology

A small but significant sign, food for thought, a message that makes people look with hope at the beauty of Creation: this is the Laudato si' Garden inaugurated in the Italian town of Ladispoli by Bishop Ruzza and created by children and volunteers. In a place choked by excessive urbanization, the prelate calls the faithful to work together, overcome all divisions, to care for our Common Home and to restore dignity to the excluded.

By Cecilia Seppia

Ladispoli was once a privileged corner of the Latium Maremma region where flocks migrated in late spring; it was the realm of the cereal latifundium where Silvio Vitone, a volunteer of the Laudato si' Club of the Sacred Heart, says the poorly paid and exploited young men who came from neighboring regions prepared the soil for sowing. Inland, close to the old Aurelia road, the Mediterranean scrub dominated the landscape unchallenged, accompanied by oak and downy oak trees and the intense scents of flowers in the undergrowth. Stretching toward the sea, a tangle of lowland forest dotted by tranquil coastal lagoons. But since the early 1900s, a booming seaside tourism was discovered and this shoreline became an example of a garden-city, flourishing with cottages and villas for Roman vacationers of the upper middle class.

Today, however, the quiet village of yesteryear has given way to an expanse of cement buildings, with little greenery, the result of improvised and distorted construction projects, the legacy of speculative behavior. It is that gray cement that blights the sight and maims the heart, fells trees, and forces the surviving animals to find shelter elsewhere. It happens in so many parts of the world, and eventually the eye gets used to it, just as one gets used to the fate of an Earth abused, intoxicated, succumbed to man's rule. Yet the people here seem not to have lost their vocation of caring for Creation; they seem determined to preserve the naturalistic and historical beauty of this small maritime town: just think of the Palo Forest, the Monteroni countryside or the Torre Flavia Natural Monument Swampland. For this reason, the Ladispoli Diocese and the Laudato si' Club of the Sacred Heart, without pontificating from a podium or hailing themselves as champions of an ecologism that merely protects ecosystems, seek to strengthen in every way the link between man and the work of God. They are seeking to heal the wounds inflicted on the land and to transmit to the younger generations the concept, dear to the Pope, of integral ecology, starting from the conviction that everything in the world is connected and that, as the pandemic reminded us, we are interdependent on one another, and on Mother Earth.

The tent symbol in the Laudato si’ Garden
The tent symbol in the Laudato si’ Garden

Initiatives for our Common Home

Many initiatives, concerts, ecological hikes, meetings, liturgies and celebrations were organized by the dioceses of Civitavecchia-Tarquinia and Porto-Santa Rufina during the month-long Season of Creation.  Through the review, “CustodiAmo Creation,” the aim was to raise awareness of the themes contained in Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato si'.  "Learning to care for Creation with a 360 degree commitment: to a different lifestyle, to co-responsibility for the common good, to educating to the other,” said Bishop Gianrico Ruzza of Porto-Santa Rufina and member of the Episcopal Commission for Social Issues and Work, Justice and Peace, who before the summer here in Ladispoli, had inaugurated and blessed the new Laudato si' Garden in the Sacred Heart parish.

Across Italy, from North to South in recent years, gardens inspired by Pope Francis' encyclical have sprung up and multiplied on land taken from organized crime or in arid, deserted, or drastically urbanized places seemingly hostile to all forms of life, offering green areas for everyone to enjoy. And to those who think that a park or garden named after that key verse of the Canticle of the Creatures may be just wishful thinking, a handsome trinket, Monsignor Ruzza reiterates that behind the symbolic value of these places lies a moral imperative and a purpose: "to remind everyone that one cannot heal the damage to natural environments without changing the human society that produced it." Therefore, in the interaction between the environment and humans, special attention must be paid to restoring dignity to the excluded: the weakest people and those places where environmental disasters are felt most intensely and frequently. On the occasion of this inauguration, the Sacred Heart parish priest, Fr. Giovanni Righetti, wished to recall the ecclesial community's commitment to adopting lifestyles for the care of the Common Home: the Oikos Decalogue for responsible consumption; the planting of trees every Sunday of Advent; and the Laudato si' Garden, in fact, to look with renewed hope at the beauty of Creation, which is often neglected, mistreated and sacrificed on the altar of our selfishness and utilitarian visions.

Another showcase exhibit in the Laudato si’ Garden
Another showcase exhibit in the Laudato si’ Garden

The Bishop’s testimony

“I am very struck by the fact that the first to react and to commit to finding answers to environmental problems are the children and young people,” says Bishop Ruzza. “This is a very important fact that as a Church, but also as a society, we should not neglect; however, I think there is a vast desert to cross before we see the effective ecological conversion invoked by Francis. A cultural desert obviously, to cross in order for us to accept the Holy Father’s proposal. It is not a new proposal, it’s even mentioned in the book of Genesis, but I think the ecclesial community can do a lot to prod and reorient consciences according to the Pope's indications that explain, in a modern and actual way, what Scripture has always told us.

The Italian Bishops' Conference is doing a lot, especially through the various commissions that deal with this: I am thinking of Creation Day, the work of the Commission for Social Pastoral Care; I am thinking of the great commitment to synodal listening that puts these themes at the center precisely because they come from listening to the People of God. Also, the issue of work, with which I am personally concerned, and which is also a theme relaunched by Laudato si'. Regarding this, the data are really dramatic: ‘innocent deaths’ continue. There are 3-4 deaths a day from work-related causes in Italy and all this is not tolerable; we must raise our voices and say ‘enough’ to a system in which man has no place, which does not recognize or take into account his dignity. And, unfortunately, certain alliances with production and financial systems are really lethal for the lives of people, families; for the environment that resists but then responds with mud, with floods, with drought - and this generates malcontent, divisions and wars at all levels. Our Diocese is predominantly agricultural and linked to maritime activities and fishing, so with this Laudato si' Garden, we also want to encourage everyone to respect history and this does not mean being out of step with the times but rather understanding the need to return to the humus, to the earth, to the simplicity and humility that it teaches us, and to the infinite horizon that the sea gives us. Only then will we stop witnessing the power struggle of war, horrors, and deaths. If it is true that everything is connected, we must go back to helping each other and the environment, to breathe again."

Many children helped to create the Garden
Many children helped to create the Garden

A Church on the move

Among the initiatives recently launched by the diocese, special mention must be made of the cycling relay that crossed the 150 kilometers of Porto-Santa Ruffina’s 5 vicariates, together with the area’s priests, collaborators, children, families, and associations who were raising awareness about the message of Pope Francis' encyclical. 'Get up and pedal' was the theme chosen for the event. Organizers said it "achieved the goal of awakening consciences, nurturing a passion for caring for the environment, educating to inner peace and to the alliance between man and Creation, to correspond to the Creator's project. Indeed, the bicycle symbolizes everyone's commitment to "pedaling" change, as the Pope says: the Church’s equilibrium reminds us of the bicycle which falls if it stands still, but is fine if it is in motion. For five days, an electric bike ridden by relay riders - a representative from each parish for each stage - crossed the entire diocesan territory, starting from the Cathedral. The bike was accompanied by two other bikes and an electric car. Upon arrival at each stop, the relay rider made a gift to the community of the encyclical Laudato si' along with other materials that can be used to raise awareness about caring for Creation.

18 October 2022, 10:00