Since its very beginning in the 1980s, the St. Francis of Assisi Environmental Movement (REFA) has been involved in promoting the principles of Christian ecology as well as the attitude of respect for creation in accordance with the Franciscan spirituality. We would like to be the voice of ecologists in the structures of the Catholic Church and the voice of Christians among ecologists. During its 40 years of activity, REFA has undertaken numerous initiatives aimed at spreading Franciscan thought in the environmental debate. Below are the most important activities we have carried out in recent years.
The ideas of the St. Francis of Assisi Environmental Movement
Since its very beginning in the 1980s, the St. Francis of Assisi Environmental Movement (REFA) has been involved in promoting the principles of Christian ecology as well as the attitude of respect for creation in accordance with the Franciscan spirituality. We would like to become the voice of ecologists in the structures of the Catholic Church and the voice of Christians among ecologists. We are committed to protecting the natural environment at local and global levels and, therefore, we are striving to implement educational goals in specific projects, publications, events and social media, encouraging social involvement and jointly developing new opportunities for various initiatives.
It is worth mentioning also that, according to the statute, REFA’s ideas are shaped by:
- Francis’s vision of solidarity and brotherhood with all creatures, which is well expressed in the contemporary decalogue of St. Francis, based on his writings and early Franciscan sources;
- Fascination with the beauty of nature, but also due to the “ecological shock” caused by learning about the magnitude of the ecological crisis in Poland and the world, personal contact with the effects of destruction of nature and human health, and thorough knowledge of nature, ecology, philosophy and theology, and
- Social teaching of the Church and the thought of John Paul II, because we understand the goal of the Movement as “active participation in building a civilization of love based on the primacy of a person before a thing, ethics before technology, a strive to “be more” before a strive to “have more”, mercy before justice, through fraternal treatment of man and nature” (REFA Statute).
Throughout its long history, REFA has implemented many projects, including:
- The Franciscan Ecological Education Project, which comprised preparation of numerous educational, liturgical and preaching materials, popularizing the Christian approach to ecology, social teaching of the Church and Franciscan spirituality.
- Ecological Workshops REFA organized in the years 1994–2009 whose participants were invited to selected national or landscape parks;
- The Map of Christian Ecological Initiatives, where we collected data on ecological initiatives undertaken in Poland and drawing their inspirations from the Christian thought,
- The Gardens of St. Francis, promoting the preservation of natural or semi-natural ecosystems through social protection of nature refuges, referring to the idea expressed by the Ecologists’ Patron, to leave at the monasteries “an uncultivated border so that the herb greenery and the beauty of flowers praised the Father of all beautiful things in their time” (Thomas of Celano 1981: 167). Such places, apart from their natural and teaching value, are supposed to serve the social goals of the local community and become places where people might rest, contemplate and spend free time surrounded by nature. According to our assumptions, the Gardener of St. Francis is a special type of architect who not only designs and creates space, but also cultivates life. This also applies to human ecology, i.e. those values that serve our regeneration (physical and spiritual) and rest. Therefore, three aspects harmonize here: natural (environmental), social (community) and religious (spiritual). The statue of St. Francis placed in the garden is to indicate that inspiration and help should be sought in this Saint and in his spirituality.
- The Brehov project – international meetings of the young from Franciscan ministries of Eastern European countries organized four times in the years 2000–2003 in the Slovak Brehov, Hungarian Eger and Vilnius, in which we included ecological education;
- The Green Notebook REFA – our newsletter published in the years 1988–2011, providing answers to many questions about Christian ecology, reflection on the place of our Saint Patron in social activity and practical suggestions for use in ecological education.
- The project “Make the Earth loved!”, whose goal was to create an integral ecological education programme taking into account the ethics in line with the idea that ecology begins with the change of the heart, mentality and sense of responsibility for the world. The slogan “Make the Earth loved!” is a response to the accusations of excessive exploitation of the world due to the implementation of the biblical command.
- The centre for saving and promoting ecological energy sources in the Church “Ethics & Energy”, where (in 2011–2015) we co-created an expert group supporting the implementation of sustainable and balanced development of local parish and monastery communities, ecological lifestyle and rational energy management. In cooperation with professional organizations and companies, we supported the idea of conducting an ecological audit of church buildings and energy saving projects, and we promoted alternative energy sources in church and parish buildings, as well as ecological forms of transport.
- The Integral Ecology Leaders School – the project was established in 2018 and has been continuously developed since then. Its goal is to activate Catholic communities in Poland to act for integral ecology. Our aim is popularizing the message of Laudato si’ encyclical in the context of responsibility for the world and its contemporary challenges, like climate change. By the Integral Ecology Leaders School REFA wants to support bottom-up local activities of people who needs to be equipped with knowledge, awareness of the importance of problems and the ability to influence others in their socio-political decisions and consumer choices. The idea of the project was to prepare leaders who will implement integral ecology in the local context and to create a new atmosphere for the ecological and climate change debate among Polish Christians as the result. Every year, within the framework of the School of Leaders, workshops and meetings are organized to popularize the idea of integral ecology and the Christian voice in the ecological debate. Brochures and publications are published, such as “The Patron of Ecologists”, “Make the Earth Loved”.
- Laudato si’ Week – every year at the end of May on the anniversary of the signing of the Laudato si’ a special time dedicated to this eco-encyclical is celebrated. In conjunction with Catholics around the world, REFA joins the project and we present various initiatives from Poland and the Vatican and encourage green activity. Each year there are meetings and online activities. We promote them on swietostworzenia.pl portal and on social media with the hashtags: #TydzieńLaudatoSi, #LaudatoSi5, #BoskaZiemia, #żyjLaudatosi #TroskaoWspólnyDom, #CzyńcieZiemiękochaną, #ŚwiętoStworzenia.
- Season of Creation – every year, from the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation to the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church holds a Season of Creation. This is a special period of ecumenical prayer and activities of the entire Christian community on behalf of the Earth, our common home. REFA has responded to Pope Francis’ invitation – we have been participating in the celebration since 2015, and we are pleased that more and more organizations and communities are joining in. We help with various projects, spreading the Franciscan message of Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti.
- The proposal of educational program of the center of education in integral ecology – in the cooperation with experts, in 2021 REFA prepared the proposal of an eco-center In Radomsko as a meeting place for Christian ecologists. Over the years, we have received many signs from the Catholic Church in Poland that it expects a stronger Franciscan commitment in Christian ecology topic. Hence, the idea to strengthen the Franciscan voice in the Church and in the ecological movement realized by REFA through the support of our movement in Radomsko, as a place of meeting and formation form Christian ecologists. In 2021, we spent much time exploring the possibility of establishing and developing such a center in Radomsko. The main goal of the project is a “good change” in the perception of ecological challenges among Polish Catholics by using the achievements of the Church’s social teaching and Franciscan tradition. We have prepared two possible options for the educational program – the first is an optimal one and the second – minimal. Regarding the first one we have presented the opinions about the friary in Radomsko. It is one of the oldest Franciscan friaries in Poland. Franciscans came here in 1288, the friary has no parish, but it has a 1,5-hectacre garden and recently it has been going through several renovations. Thus, an analysis of technological solutions such as: ecological building systems, passive buildings, plus energy buildings, green roofs and walls, wooden construction systems, use of natural building materials, aftermarket materials and aftermarket furnishings, circular production process, social economy in the construction process and volunteering in the investment process was created. We also presented the conclusions of a study tour on 22.08–5.09 and 20–22.11.2021 examining the ecological transformation of Catholic monasteries in selected European countries. The second (minimal) option describes the activities if the REFA Center without new investments and the conditions for success of the project.