Although they have widely differing backgrounds and life experiences, Lucy Silva-Thomas, Vincent Valdez and Betsy Reifsnider all are putting their Catholic faith into action working on a common goal: the belief that individuals and parish communities can be better stewards of creation.
They are each working to increase awareness among their fellow Catholics of the long tradition of Catholic social teaching on the responsibility for creation care. Each is personally invested in speaking about the importance of and the obligation to better care for God’s great gift to all, the environment.
Betsy Reifsnider, a member since 1994 of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in midtown Sacramento, says her love of the outdoors was fostered during her childhood years in Glendora, located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. “I was very fortunate to always be able to go hiking, backpacking and bicycling on mountain roads and in the wilderness,” she recalls. She was a Girl Scout, graduated with a degree in diplomacy and world affairs from Occidental College, and studied modern Chinese political history at the University of Chicago.
Her career of more than 30 years throughout California focused on work for many nonprofit environmental organizations, and she served as environmental justice director with Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Stockton from 2004 to 2013. Now retired, she still serves as a policy associate in Sacramento for the Mono Lake Committee.
Living in southern California before the Clean Air Act was signed into law, “as a kid, we had some of the worst air pollution. My lungs would hurt and since then I’ve had a sadness because of how we pollute our earth,” Betsy recalls. “Still today we are all victims of air pollution, but we are also the perpetrators and we can’t scapegoat anyone. Everyone has to play their part in caring for the environment.”
For several years, she has been involved in the Pathways for Justice ministry at St. Francis, which focuses on social and environmental justice. The ministry hosted a presentation on Laudato Si’ when it was first issued by Pope Francis. Among the ministry’s activities were a Bike to Church Sunday; an energy and water audit of the church, school and parish hall by the City of Sacramento Water Department and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District; organizing ecological Stations of the Cross during Lent; and working with St. Francis of Assisi School to designate the school and parish grounds as a St. Kateri Tekakwitha Habitat.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when parishioners couldn’t gather in person, the ministry offered a four-parish Zoom series to discuss Laudato Si; provided an eight-week Zoom series from JustFaith called “Sacred Land,” in conjunction with the Dominican Sisters of Racine, Wisconsin; and distributed seedlings, compost bags, Care for Creation prayers and earth-friendly information after all Masses on Earth Day weekend.
Full story at Diocese of Sacramento website.