St. Francis Inspires Young Adults to Environmental Work

A group photo of participants in the 2013 Franciscan Earth Corps launch in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Amanda SchulzIt’s hard to imagine how Fancesco di Bernardone, the rich, rowdy, debaucherous teenager from Assisi, became the venerable Saint Francis he’s known as today. Francis’s change may have been inspired by the traumatic year he spent in a dank prison, with rats, after his army was defeated. Or the change may have been inspired by a divine calling. According to the “Testament,” written shortly before he died, Francis attributed his conversion to God leading him to work with lepers.

Whatever inspired the change, Francis’s decision to renounce his inheritance, help the poor, and protect the environment, became his calling and a source of inspiration to millions of followers who want to live simpler, more connected lives.

And now a new group of followers — the growing Franciscan Earth Corps — aims to transform the world in the spirit of Saint Francis. The national, ecumenical program encourages young adults, aged 18 to 35, to connect social and environmental justice activities with Franciscan teachings that stress the interconnectedness of creation.

“Without religion and spirituality, all you’re doing is reordering everything on the outside and not affecting anyone on the inside,” said Rhett Engelking, who directs the corps through the Washington, D.C.-based Franciscan Action Network.

Franciscan Earth Corps stresses prayer, service, and creation stewardship. Those elements echo the philosophy of the 13th-century saint who said: “We are all creatures of one family.” Projects emphasize care for the Earth and the Franciscan ideals of simplicity and sustainability.

The group is very new. In fact, the first official public action only occurred in Washington, D.C. last September. A group of twenty volunteers bearing shovels, hoes, rakes, mums, daisies, hosta, tulip bulbs, and a dwarf crepe myrtle tree, squeezed through a gap in a fence and started planting on an abandoned parking lot. Although their trespass was technically illegal, neighbors cheered them on. The site had been abandoned for more than a year and had become a hangout for drug dealers.

Friar Fred Ball, pastor of San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church in Little Rock, wrote in an email, “this project was more than the beautification of one abandoned spot in the city. It was a living parable of the Franciscan way, actively engaging a broken world and transforming it, one flower at a time.”

The work of the Corps is expanding with chapters in Syracuse, N.Y; Albany, N.Y.; Long Island, N.Y.; Silver Spring, Md.; Tampa, Fla.; Milwaukee; Charlottesville, Va.; and Little Rock, Ark.

The Rev. Sam Fuller, a Capuchin Franciscan ministering in a parish in Middletown, Conn., is helping launch a chapter in the greater Hartford, Conn., area. He and other Franciscans put together an Earth Day march addressing climate change; a similar event is planned for April 27. The Hartford chapter will present “Melting Ice, Mending Creation: A Catholic Approach to Climate Change” next month.

The Franciscan Earth Corps is a fantastic example of St. Francis’s influence almost 800 years after his death.

Source: Religion News

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .