Solar-Powered Friars

Photo from: giulio napolitano /

Photo from: giulio napolitano /

If you visit the Franciscan Friars Conventual of Ellicott City, Maryland, you’ll notice a large solar array standing in one of their fields. The friars have dramatically reduced their electricity bill, but that’s not the primary reason they invested in renewable energy.

As Friar Michael Heine says, reducing their carbon footprint is “the right thing to do.”

Friar Heine’s assertion is rooted in a tradition of caring for the environment — “Creation care,” as it’s frequently called in Judeo-Christian communities. This theology got a big boost when Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, Praise Be You: On the Care of Our Common Home.

Encyclicals are one of the highest levels of papal teaching, and this one focuses on the moral duty to care for our Earth. The pope devoted much of it to the challenge posed by climate change.

Even though I’m not Catholic, I’m thrilled by what the Vatican is saying. Why? Because Pope Francis just made my job much easier.

I work as the Maryland Program Associate for Interfaith Power & Light, a non-profit that helps faith communities save energy, go green, and respond to climate change. I have the privilege of supporting the great work that local faith communities like the friars outside Baltimore are doing to act on climate.

The biggest hurdle in my job isn’t convincing people of the importance of climate action. It’s simply raising awareness about climate change as a religious issue. Once we remind people that caring for the environment is a core part of theology and scripture, they get excited about doing what they can in their homes and places of worship to steward our Earth.

By putting climate change at the heart of his encyclical, Pope Francis is raising awareness about the importance of Creation care among the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, along with the many non-Catholics who are inspired by him. He reaches people in a way that no climate organization ever could.

Pope Francis is sending a strong message. Climate change, he says, “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

When he says we have a “duty to care for creation through little daily actions,” that makes it much easier for people like me to help congregations switch to greener energy choices.

What would our country look like if every house of worship ran on renewable energy, like the Franciscan Friars Conventual? My hope is that we all can unite behind Pope Francis’s rallying call — Catholic and non-Catholic alike — since he prophetically states that the challenges of climate change “require a new and universal solidarity.”

Nearly 100 Maryland congregations are getting their electricity from wind or solar power. It’s time for the rest of the religious community to join in.

Clara Summers is currently a New Economy Maryland Fellow and works for Interfaith Power and Light as a member of the Episcopal Service Corps.