U. of I. Newman hosts interfaith prayer for the care of creation

By: By Tom Dermody

Caption: Liam Brady, who is active in service and justice outreach at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign, reads from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun at the conclusion of an Interfaith Prayer Service for the Care of Creation on Sept. 1. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)


CHAMPAIGN — Sister Water made an unexpected appearance at an Interfaith Prayer Service for the Care of Creation at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center here on Sept. 1.

“I would say, in the spirit of our prayer, to enjoy the rain and see it as a gift,” said Father Luke Spannagel, head chaplain at the Newman Center, after an evening shower canceled a planned walk through the University of Illinois campus at the conclusion of the prayer service at St. John’s Chapel.

The first-of-its-kind event took place on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, recently designated as Sept. 1 by Pope Francis.

The evening shower came as about 50 participants — including leaders from several faith traditions — praised God in song and prayer for gifts of creation ranging from sunrises to stars, from trees to wind and yes, rain. There were also repeated calls for both personal and united action to better care for the environment, inspired by Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”

“Teach us to recognize that service to you goes beyond mere words of praise, but requires working together with our brothers and sisters, caring for this fragile planet that we may preserve it for future generations,” prayed Rabbi Alan Cook, representing the Sinai Temple in Champaign.

In his remarks, Father Spannagel acknowledged that reading Pope Francis’ teaching on the environment made him uncomfortable at times.

“I wanted more specific instructions,” said Father Spannagel. But then he understood that the pope was trying to inspire readers to look within as well as around them, to “understand how my love for others can grow and, in doing so, I’ll work harder to help protect the world we live in.”

He prayed that we “remember always the language of creation, the way our Creator speaks to us.” Father Spannagel asked that “we pledge to do our best to answer that call with reverence and care.”

At the end of the brief prayer service — which included a reading of the creation story from Genesis and hymns such as “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “For the Fruit of All Creation” — the participants were invited to walk from St. John’s Chapel to a nearby majestic London planetree on campus known for its spreading branches.

“I’ve enjoyed the shade of that tree for many years,” said Father Spannagel. Noting a cable now helps support a long, low sweeping branch, he cited how the tree has been cared for as a “great example of stewardship” as human ingenuity is used to preserve and uphold it.

Because of the rain, however, the service concluded with remarks in the chapel vestibule.

Among those applauding the rain was Pastor Maggie Falenschek of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Urbana.

“I just moved here from the San Francisco Bay area in California where there has not been rain for far too long,” she told the group. “I just wish it would go west where they so desperately need it.”

Liam Brady, a student active in the Newman Center’s service and justice outreach, read from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun. Among the verses was “Praised be my Lord for our Sister Water, for she is very useful, humble, and precious to us.”

The Rev. Cindy Shepherd, congregational outreach director for Faith in Place — which co-sponsored the evening — urged those attending to back their prayers with action, including reducing their carbon footprint, using water more carefully, and letting policymakers know their preference for renewable, clean energy.

Amy Felty, representing the Baha’i faith, also offered a prayer.

The Champaign service was one of many around the world in response to Pope Francis’ call for prayer. At the Vatican on Sept. 1, he presided at an evening celebration in which he led prayers for the safeguarding of creation. The pope asked people to contemplate God in the beauty of the universe and give thanks.

In his opening prayer, Pope Francis asked God to fill people with a desire “to protect every life, to prepare a better future so that your kingdom of justice, people, love and beauty would come.”

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