Current Event Response Paper- Sisters bring Pope’s environmental message to Iowa


February 4, 2016

In Dubuque, Iowa the 13 congregations of Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley placed more than 20 billboards in Iowa, southwest Wisconsin and western Illinois days before the 2016 Iowa caucus. The billboard relayed this message: “Standing with Pope Francis; Caring for our Common Home.” (Hoverman 2016). Pope Francis had recently called people all over the world to protect our planet in his latest encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Hoverman 2016). The sisters were following the Pope’s lead and were raising awareness of the environmental issues that face our world today. Sister Joy Peterson said in an interview, “Our big hope is that people see that caring for the climate, caring for the earth is a moral obligation” (Hoverman 2016). These sisters used their message to activate two value systems within people; they were homocentric ethics and ecocentric ethics.

A homocentric ethic values society; making decisions that benefit the society as a whole. The sisters chose to place their billboards in Iowa because they wanted to gain the attention of the incoming candidates and the people across America (Hoverman 2016). They wanted to change people’s perception of the environment and encourage us all to come together as one and take care of the home we all share. They also wanted to increase the public’s willingness to act on behalf of our planet because if enough people want to protect the environment, politicians will be more open to the wishes of their constituents despite their personal values. Sister Kathleen Storms said, “When our personal actions align with Pope Francis’ message, we will effect change in our homes, neighborhoods. When our legislators see us taking this message seriously, they will find ways to make changes that will alter our state and global actions” (Hoverman 2016).

An ecocentric ethic believes that the whole environment has intrinsic value which is also something Christians believe. Christianity teaches respect for God’s creations and to be stewards of this Earth (Maryvale Institute 2016). For a Christian, taking care of the Earth is a moral issue, an obligation that has to be fulfilled out of respect for God (Carolan 2016). The sisters wanted to appeal to people’s inner Christian by reminding them that this home was given to us by God and that we have a duty to protect it. They also wanted to emphasize the importance of Pope Francis’s encyclical. Sister Michelle Balek said, “Part of the reason for our billboard campaign is not only to encourage us to talk with our representatives and the candidates about incorporating the environment into our policies, but it’s also that we keep aware, keep moving and discovering all the riches in the encyclical” (Hoverman 2016).

The sister’s methods were strategic and positive. They knew that placing the billboards in Iowa would draw the most attention from people and from politicians. They displayed their message all over the city and on social media sites. Their actions received positive feedback from the locals and on Facebook and Twitter. The sister’s carried out this demonstration in a safe and calm manner. They prayed and held services and read quotes from Pope Francis’ encyclical while under their billboards. Sister Peterson said, “May all who pass by this billboard be moved to work for the good of our common home” (Hoverman 2016). I found this demonstration to be very clever and interesting. It’s great that the Catholic Church is using their influence to change people’s values when it comes to the environment. It was obvious that the Pope and these sister’s motives came from a place of love and concern for the planet that we all call home. The only way to save the planet is to change people’s negative values and get them to care about the environment. This is why the sister’s actions in Iowa were so important. If the American people’s values begin to change, politicians, despite their personal values, will change and they will create laws that will protect and preserve the environment for future generations.

Lawrence King

Works Cited:

Hoverman, Carol. 2016. “Sisters’ Billboards Bring Pope’s Environmental Message to Iowa Caucuses.” (February 1, 2016).

Carolan, Patrick. 2011. “The Catholic Perspective on the Environment.” U.S Catholic Faith in Real Life. (February 1, 2016).

Anonymous writer from Maryvale Institute. “What Is the Church’s Teaching about the Environment? .” Pope Benedict XVI in the United Kingdom. (February 1, 2016).

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