By Sister Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center
OMI Novices and Sister Maxine are finding concepts in Laudato Si come alive through field trips in the Godfrey area. In the encyclical Pope Francis calls us to “become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.” That is our goal, and our first field trip explored chapter one, “What Is Happening to Our Common Home,” focusing on pollution, waste, and the throwaway culture.
We began by driving across the river in order to pass close to the coal-fired Sioux Power Plant which generates our electricity, and which is visible from the Novitiate. With our own eyes we saw pollution spewing out of the stack, 3 million tons of coal ash, and ponds of polluted wastewater. The encyclical states, “Each year hundreds of millions of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive,… from industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” Seeing this up close was a sobering experience and helped us understand why fossil fuels need to be replaced with clean, renewable energy if we are to counter pollution and toxic waste.
Next, we visited the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rivers located a few miles from the power plant in Portage des Sioux, Missouri. In the encyclical we are reminded that, “Mary, our Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world.” We join Mary in caring for our wounded world, recognizing that the ecological crisis is at its root a spiritual crisis. We have forgotten that all creation is sacred, and we need to treat it that way.
On our return to the Novitiate we stopped at an abandoned house on the property. The reality of our throwaway culture as a longstanding problem became clear when we found an old vehicle left in the woods along with an abundance of trash.
We concluded our time together considering how to reduce our use of electricity along with ways to step outside the throwaway culture. Novices were invited to recycle batteries and paper in the Learning Center Office. Small efforts mean so much as Pope Francis reminds us: “There is a nobility in our care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.”