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Delio on Climate Change

Written by Mike Thee
October 26, 2015

She's a scientist…she's a theologian…She's Ilia Delio, O.S.F., and earlier this month she was at Seattle University to deliver the first Catholic Heritage Lecture of 2015-2016. Sponsored by the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture (ICTC) in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability (CEJS), this year's lecture series, "Care for the Earth, Care for the Poor," is inspired by Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si'. 

With doctorates in pharmacology and historical theology, Sister Delio could not be better situated to explore the topic of climate change from a perspective that takes account of both faith and science. For Sister Delio it was an encore trip, having previously addressed the SU community during Mission Day and as the Catholic Heritage Lecture keynote in April 2011. 

Her recent visit included meeting with other groups on and off campus. Sister Delio presented a half-day workshop at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Burien that drew more than 400 participants. (The workshop was made possible by a collaboration involving the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, the Archdiocesan Missions Office and the ICTC.)

Here on campus, Sister Delio also spoke to a class called Earth Spirituality and Justice I. The class is examining Laudato Si', and parts II and III will be taught in winter and spring quarters to coincide with the two other Catholic Heritage Lectures. (Faculty, staff and students interested in registering for the courses can contact Punsalan-Manlimos at punsalanc@seattleu.edu or any of the other professors on the team.) 

It's not your usual SU class. For one, it's being team-taught by Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos, director of ICTC and the Malcolm and Mari Stamper Endowed Chair in Catholic Intellectual and Cultural Traditions; Le Xuan Hy, director of the Catholic Studies Program and the Reverend Louis Gaffney, S.J. Chair in the College of Arts and Sciences; Rev. Tito Cruz, associate dean of academic affairs and associate professor of practical theology and leadership in the School of Theology and Ministry; and Bob Stephan, S.J., Mission and Ministry. 

Also unique is the composition of the class, as it includes a range of students running the gamut from freshmen to graduate students and doctoral students. Father Cruz is finding the multidisciplinary and intergenerational class to be refreshing. "We are always trying to be normative," he said. "Why not have undergraduate and graduate students in the same class? For me, there's no going back." 

A disruptor of the norm, the class can be thought of as a microcosm of the new thinking and interconnectedness Pope Francis is calling for in Laudato Si'. 

Speaking to the class about the encyclical, Sister Delio said the pope is reminding us that "personhood and planet go together," adding that "the people most affected by climate change are the poor." 

Not one to put a wall between science and faith, Sister Delio, said, "Look at quantum physics. We are beginning to realize that matter is really deeply entangled fields of energy. (This) interconnectivity may be the most apt description of our own reality. 

"(As humans)," she continued, "we're more complex (than other species) but not better, and that doesn't exempt us from being interrelated (with the whole of the planet)." 

Of Sister Delio's visit, Punsalan-Manlimos says, "It was a wonderful opportunity. The various activities related to (her time in Seattle) illustrate the dialogical model that the ICTC seeks to follow and that the pope invites."