Climate change and what can be done about it were the hot topics when more than 60 Catholic high school students from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet gathered for a Youth Climate Summit on 9 April at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.
The idea came from Kayla Jacobs, program director for Laudato Si’ Ministries in the Diocese of Joliet, who secured a grant to fund the event.
“I decided to reach out to the archdiocese to see if we could partner up to involve even more young people,” Jacobs said.
The event was sponsored by the dioceses and supported by the staff, but the high school students planned and organized it. From the Archdiocese of Chicago, students from St. Viator, Loyola Academy, Nazareth Academy and Trinity High School participated.
Last fall, students applied to sit on the management committee. Committee members received a small bursary for their involvement and for the mentorship they received from staff.
Two students acted as emcees and led the composting of the materials used that day. The compost was then transported to a Laudato Si’ farm belonging to the Diocese of Joliet. Workshop topics included how to start a community garden, how to make your high school environmentally sustainable, and advocacy.
“It was a great day and we got a lot of great feedback from the students,” Jacobs said. “We also had times of prayer and fun together.”
The student committee is also planning a rally in August around climate change and protecting the earth.
“The cool thing is that we also had science teachers come with the students and one of the teachers gave a presentation. It was cool to see that even school staff were interested in getting involved,” Jacobs said.
Knowing that climate change and the environment are important to teens, she wanted to engage young people around Laudato Si’.
“The church in general always seems to insist on involving young people or that young people don’t go to mass,” Jacobs said. “And the young people themselves during this process pointed out that maybe the church wasn’t doing enough to address these issues or they didn’t feel entirely comfortable in the church, so we also thought it would be a good way to bridge a gap to get young people involved in a church ministry that really interests them.
Rebecca Guerra, a sophomore at Trinity High School in River Forest, is on the steering committee and said she has always been concerned about caring for the land.
“I’ve always had climate anxiety,” Guerra said.
Reports of climate destruction contribute to anxiety, but it’s not just that, she said.
“Even when you’re walking down the street and you see a McDonald’s cup, it’s kind of scary,” Guerra said. “I really wanted to send the message to other young people that this is an issue happening in the world and that we can do something about it. We don’t have to just sit back and to let the adults take over the situation, because one day we will be the adults and we will have to do something about it.
Many ideas emerged from the group discussions, and one really caught Guerra’s attention. The students noticed how many of today’s positive responses to climate change, such as electric cars and solar panels, are only available to the wealthy. Students want to think about ways to change that, she said.
“I can see the passion in these people that they actually want to do something to help and they all want to come together as one big house, one big family,” she said.