The Parish Social Ministry program at Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), in its effort to share and implement the teaching of Laudato Sí, transformed recycling old television sets into a way of educating people on caring for creation.
“We refer to it as the free ‘TV-drop-off’ day,” said Bill Wood, parish outreach specialist for CCM. “We also take computers, microwaves, basically, anything that plugs in.” The recycling day is called “E-waste,” and it is part of a diocesan-wide initiative called EcoJoy developed by the CCM Parish Social Ministry team.
According to the CCM website, EcoJoy “is a holistic approach integrating ecology, education, and spirituality in an effort of the Catholic Church to unify environmental efforts with our parishes.” EcoJoy consists of four cornerstone activities: spiritual integration, ongoing learning, community partnerships and sharing information and practices.
The E-waste recycling days combine all four activities into a gentle reminder of the messages of Laudato Sí, which seeks to ground the care for creation in the care and mutual concern of human beings with each other.
“We’ve done more than 15 recycling days at church locations,” Wood said, “and we partner with a recycling company. It’s pretty amazing, because in the span of three or four hours we collect thirty to forty thousand pounds of old electronics. It’s also a great way to make friends with the community and parishioners, who can get rid of their stuff without having to pay a fee at the local dump or transfer station. It’s just a great way to connect with the community around this topic.”
Michael Smith, program manager for CCM’s Parish Social Ministry program, said that some of the parishes take advantage of hosting an E-waste day by highlighting other activities friendly to the environment and community life. “One priest encouraged his parishioners to sign up for electronic bulletins,” Smith said, “and to make donations online and to develop efforts beyond recycling in order to reduce the footprint further.”
Money gained from the recycling days – not only from the recycled material but also from spontaneous donations – pays for more educational opportunities and activities focused on Laudato Sí, everything from community gardens to art projects.
The “Care for Creation Art Project” – paid for by E-waste funds – introduces children to Laudato Sí and challenges them to create a piece of art based on their learning. The children watch one of two animated videos (one for younger children, one for teens) that introduce the concepts of Laudato Sí. Then, with the supplies provided by E-waste, the children sculpt, paint or make something in response to what they have learned.
One child painted a sunset and included an explanatory note: “The meaning of my drawing…is that when the sun comes up everything has God’s light…We must protect God’s earth by not putting plastic in the ocean.” Another child drew a picture of the earth and stated: “I think we should focus on God’s creations more than your inside life. We should respect nature with our heart, soul, and life.”
The children’s responses to the Laudato Sí videos encouraged Wood and made the effort to implement EcoJoy worthwhile. “All the children wrote really wonderful things,” he said. “I think they really got the message. We all come together and we make something that, as a whole, is representative of our universal faith.”
Both Wood and Smith agree that the EcoJoy program has been a success for CCM and their diocese. For that success to continue means getting more people involved and engaged in assimilating and implementing the teachings of Laudato Sí, which includes more than official programs and courses.
“We start more organically,” Smith said. “Where is the Spirit moving you? And we help engage you in that way to help the Spirit come alive. It’s about creating opportunities for taking care of God’s creation in ways that fit people’s lives. We’ve found that these kinds of encounters excite and impassion people to move on to more formal ministries.”
They are definitely getting the word out. On one of the recycling days, an older woman drove into the church parking lot and asked Wood to remove her old television from her car’s trunk. When he opened the lid, he found a very small TV set, the size of a laptop. But the woman wanted to give more and handed Wood a check for $100. Wood asked if she was sure, and the woman replied, “I like what you’re doing.”