Oblate priest presses on to preserve God's creation
By Wendy A. Hoke
FAIRPORT HARBOR- In the tiny lakeside town of Fairport Harbor, a quiet revolution is taking place.
Parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Church are engaged in an Eco-Mission led by one of the Catholic Church’s leading voices on environmentalism.
“My hope is that this becomes the primary issue of the church,” said Oblate Father Darrell Rupiper, who travels across the country from his home in Chicago preaching about the threats to Earth. St. Anthony is his 55th Eco-Mission.
A combination of preaching and teaching, Father Rupiper’s Eco-Missions embody both the spiritual and practical. Father Rupiper will preach at St. Anthony’s Masses this weekend, concluding a three-week visit to Lake County.
He preaches about preserving what God has created. His goal for those participating is two-fold—growing individual souls and saving the planet.
Through his homilies, school visits and weeknight lectures, the Oblate priest builds individual awareness of the link between the natural world and individual spiritual well being. Early during his visit parishioners were given a list of 26 practical suggestions for improving the environment and were asked to commit to at least one that they would then share publicly at the offertory.
In this final weekend individuals move together as a parish to make a difference in the environment.
Father Peter Mihalic, St. Anthony’s pastor, said parishioners are sensitive to environmental issues. Fairport Harbor’s history was tied to the Diamond Shamrock plant, which is now a brownfield, an area filled with pollutants. The twin cooling towers of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant are clearly visible from the beach.
But it is also a place of great natural beauty with the Grand River feeding into Lake Erie. “Our parish has always been involved in social justice issues. We want to preserve our gifts here,” Father Mihalic said.
Through the connections of one parishioner, Father Rupiper makes this his first Ohio visit.
Parishioners were prepped in advance of the mission, watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and other films to increase awareness.
“Nature is first and foremost a place where the human meets the divine,” Father Rupiper said.
But what happens when humans are detached from nature? They lose the sense of the divine and our connection to it through nature, Father Rupiper said. And now humanity is at a point of crisis.
“Al Gore said if you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far, go together. Now we have to go fast, together. Politicians are paralyzed by this issue,” he told parishioners on May 21 during an evening program, “so we have to do it.”
The next day, Father Rupiper soaked up the sun on the rectory patio. He acknowledged that he must be careful in the sun because he’s already paid the price, pointing out a scar from cancer. But the weather is warm and beautiful and he’s a child of the outdoors.
“I lived on a farm in Iowa so we were dealing with nature at all times,” he said. He spent several years working in Brazil on behalf of the most marginalized of that society. It filled him with a sense of purpose, of fighting for the “little ones.”
But his ecological epiphany occurred during a visit with Passionist Father Thomas Berry. “He said that the Earth itself is in danger, that we are closing off life systems. The Earth as a living organism is withering. That struck me and got me started.”
In response, Father Rupiper devised the Eco-Mission about three and a half years ago. He said he is the only priest in the United States doing this.
In his 70 years, he has had a colorful history of protests, arrests, negotiations and service. Today he is one of 1,000 people trained in Al Gore’s army of volunteers sharing the message of global climate change and the need for immediate action.
The action goes beyond politics and science, and that is also part of Father Rupiper’s message. “Pope John Paul II said, ‘The idea of an ecological vocation has become an urgent moral responsibility in today’s world,’” he said.
While the church may be slow to react, after visiting 55 parishes, Father Rupiper said the response from parishioners has been positive.
For more information on Eco-Missions, call Father Darrell Rupiper at 773-493-8917 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Father Rupiper’s 26 practical suggestions for preserving the environment can be found at www.catholicuniversebulletin.org.
Hoke is a freelance writer.