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Catholic college brings Franciscan vision to U.N. climate conference
Beth Griffin
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, April 2, 2009
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UNITED NATIONS (CNS)—Personal awareness and local action are critical elements in addressing global climate change, according to speakers at a Sept. 5-7 conference at the United Nations on "Climate Change: How It Impacts Us All."
A standing-room-only crowd at a midday workshop Sept. 5, 2007, heard representatives from Felician College in Lodi, N.J., describe how they use a multidisciplinary Franciscan model to foster individual responsibility for climate change.
"We have to take (St.) Francis out of the birdbath and get beyond the blessing of the animals," said Franciscan Brother Kevin Smith, an associate professor of religious studies.
The school's core curriculum "focuses on living the Franciscan vision, which calls each individual to move beyond words into action," he said. "Care of creation is one of the key elements of Catholic social teaching and one which is particularly significant in our Franciscan heritage."
As part of a service requirement at Felician, Brother Smith said, "Many of our students become engaged with climate change and other environmental issues. Studying local, national and global problems leads to political action with other people of good will. Although our students may act out of Christian conviction, they meet others whose motivation comes from other places." This leads to collaborative response to environmental challenges, he said.
Brother Smith said his students believe the high price of gasoline has barely changed Americans' "notorious resistance to energy conservation measures."
"Global warming has been tagged as a 'liberal' topic, which leads many to dismiss it," he said. "But, as in many other hot-button topics today, the real issue is not whether an argument is liberal or conservative...but whether it is in line with the evidence. The evidence clearly points to a pending environmental and social disaster if we do not act quickly and decisively to address global warming."
Brother Smith pointed to the U.S. bishops' 2001 statement, "Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good," calling it "as prophetic as ever. It reminds Catholics of their call to be stewards of God's creation, i.e., to be responsible caretakers of the environment."
Daniela Schlueter, an assistant professor of art and design, said climate change is a theme that has been woven through the Felician College art curriculum for two years. What began in November 2005 as a classroom discussion of unseasonable weather, she said, led to a small one-room art exhibit of posters and has now become a major multimedia exhibit.
"The seed (for the exhibit) was planted in the heads of the students," said Schlueter, and they used print, sculpture, ceramics, stained glass and drawings to interpret the theme, "Open yourself. Commit yourself. Prevent climate change."
As artists and designers, "we need to ask critical questions and do critical artwork on the topic of climate change," said Schlueter. "Solutions are born in classrooms and discussions. We can change as individuals, but we need political framework, scientists, government and industry to help us" change as a society.
Some of the more portable works from the exhibit were on display at the United Nations during the three-day conference. Schlueter said this was an example of how undergraduate students at a small liberal arts college in New Jersey can bring their message to "the most important worldwide political organization."
William Morgan, dean of the division of business and management sciences, said Felician, as a Franciscan institution, has a defined point of view. "We are not a latecomer to the environmental debate," he said. "Our mission is to help students develop their teachable points of view along with the business skills and abilities to foster positive social change."
As an example, Morgan introduced two recent graduates, Greg and Connie Mattison. They are the co-founders of a television production company called Green By Design TV. It is dedicated to making programs which spotlight "environmentally conscientious" living and provide practical strategies for achieving it.
Greg Mattison said the production company is a tool for change. "My alma mater taught me a process for change, but the responsibility lies with me to take action," he said.
The arrival of their son provoked "an increasing awareness of environmental concerns" as well as the understanding "that I could not face him every day if I allowed threatening forces to continue to impact him," Greg Mattison added.
The workshop was part of the 60th annual DPI/NGO (Department of Public Information/Nongovernmental Organizations) Conference. More than 2,000 representatives of nongovernmental organizations came from more than 80 countries to attend the event.

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