Interfaith Gathering in Wellesley Answers Pope’s Call

By Susie Davidson

Published October 26, 2015, issue of October 22, 2015.

An October 12 interfaith gathering at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley was part service, part forum and part rally.

Inspired by Pope Francis and his unprecedented call to action in his encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home,” over 50 Boston-area congregations and faith organizations converged at “Answering the Call: An Interfaith Gathering for Climate Action.”

Senior Rabbi Joel Sisenwine
Senior Rabbi Joel Sisenwine

Speakers included the synagogue’s Senior Rabbi Joel Sisenwine and Associate Rabbi Rachel Saphire; Father Bryan Hehir from the Harvard Kennedy School and the Archdiocese of Boston; Imam Ismail Fenni of the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge; Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman, the Assistant Rabbi for Engagement at Temple Sinai of Brookline; and Father Robert VerEecke, who is Pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Chestnut Hill and Jesuit Artist-in-Residence at Boston College.

“As a Jesuit priest and pastor of a Jesuit parish, how could I not answer the call from the first Jesuit Pope to care for our common home?” said VerEecke before the event, during which he led a Creation-themed dance performance. “I am profoundly moved to be part of this ecumenical event, inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.”

When the Pope’s encyclical came out in June, Synagogue Climate Action coordinator Amy Benjamin was approached by friends from the Village Church (UCC) and the Unitarian Universalists of Wellesley.

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

“We saw an amazing opportunity to bring together religious and spiritual groups throughout the Greater Boston area to raise our voices and act together on critical issues of climate change,” said Benjamin, who said that the new Mass. Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action will be working closely with Mass Power Forward, a coalition of 100 state groups.

“It is an exciting gathering of people of all faiths, getting us organized to work together for the Earth and all its inhabitants, and naming and understanding our religious and spiritual imperative to do so,” said Rabbi Katy Z. Allen of Wayland-based Ma’yan Tikva congregation and president of the Jewish Climate Action Network. “It is so wonderful that we are connecting to each other and getting more vocal and more involved as people of faith.”

“G-d put us on earth to be caretakers and stewards,” said Fenni. “In what condition are we going to leave it to our children and grandchildren?” The current climate crisis, he said, is due to mankind’s failure in its role of caretaker. “Our enjoying the comforts of life on earth should not come at the cost of destroying our environment,” he said, citing the Arabic word mizan, which denotes the balance or scale of all that exists.

“It is the balance that exists between the sun and the moon, between the stars and the heavens, and between the earth and all its communities of living beings,” said Fenni. Friedman told the crowd that the week’s Parsha about Noah could not be more apt.

“We are all concerned about climate change, but the crisis is huge and overwhelming,” she also told the Journal. “An interfaith effort to influence state energy policy brings us together in hope, and gives us a concrete and winnable goal.”

The assembled included Ben Harel, a fellow at the Boston-based Solstice Initiative who said his personal focus is on clean energy and clean eating. Hehir delivered a fascinating commentary on the 160-page Laudato Si’. “This is an unfinished event,” he said, stressing that it was up to concerned people like those at Temple Beth Elohim to carry out its message. The Pope, he said, wants us to push the climate dialogue beyond, into the realms of politics and economics.

Clearly, Mass. Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action is ready to help.

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