Students Spread Catholic Environmental Message

Brooke Mosca, Cecilia Whelton and Sarah Quispe

Brooke Mosca, Cecilia Whelton, and Sarah Quispe

March 28, 2023

Three St. John’s University students are spreading the word about the environment and its relationship to Catholic social teaching.

Seniors Brooke Mosca, Sarah Quispe, and Cecilia Whelton are members of the Laudato Si’ Advocates Program, which is managed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In their roles, they research environmental and Catholic social justice issues, submit opinion pieces on those topics to media, and communicate with lawmakers in an effort to effect change.

The goal of the program, launched after the publication of Laudato Si’, the environmental and social justice encyclical issued in 2015 by Pope Francis, is to inspire a new generation of Catholic leaders to promote ecology through advocacy and witness.

“The idea of Laudato Si’ is for all of us to be stewards of the Earth and to take care of God’s creation,” said Brooke, a native of White Marsh, MD. “In Maryland, it could be about threats to aquatic life, or if the water in and around Chesapeake Bay is not clean. For Marylanders, that is particularly bad since that is our drinking water source.”

Laudato Si’ reinforces the Church’s respect for the environment while considering the broad question of the relationship between God, humanity, and the planet. The poor, Francis wrote in the encyclical, often pay a price for environmental decay emerging from the destruction of habitats, erosion of farmlands, coastal flooding, and even the location of polluting factories.

Membership in the program is highly competitive; students from all across the country can apply. Those accepted attend a training summit in Washington, DC; receive tools to aid in faith formation; and participate in bipartisan advocacy instruction. All three St. John’s representatives are members of the University’s Catholic Scholars program.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the evangelization and ministerial work of bishops in the United States.

Cecilia, a native of Glen Ellyn, IL, graduates in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies (CCPS). Her experience in the program reinforces her belief that stewardship of the environment is the responsibility of every Catholic. In a January 2022 opinion piece for the suburban Chicago news site The Daily Herald, she advocated for a change in water access in Illinois on behalf of the poor. She has also worked with elected representatives and their staffs on matters of environmental justice. 

“It helps me grow in my faith,” Cecilia said. “It shows me how caring for the environment can be a spiritual practice. It is easy to not think about our personal impact on the environment, but this program reminds me of the importance of being intentional in those decisions.”

Brooke, who graduates in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Arts from CCPS, has had several opinion pieces published in her home state of Maryland, including a November 2022 Letter to the Editor in Southern Maryland News that defined in moral terms efforts to preserve Chesapeake Bay. Another November letter found its way into The Baltimore Sun, the largest newspaper in the state.

Brooke says her greatest challenge has been explaining environmental issues to an audience often unaware of their relationship to Catholic social teaching. “Environmental issues become human dignity issues when some in the population—usually the poor—can’t access water, or the price of food rises,” Brooke explained. “As a person of faith, I try to identify and explain an issue, relate it to Laudato Si’, and encourage officials to take the issue seriously. The whole point of the program is that while we don’t expect officials to read it and instantly change, we can start a dialogue.”

Added Sarah, who graduates in May from St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology: “We are challenged to make people aware that Laudato Si’ is a letter to everyone, not just Catholics. It is a letter to you, your neighbors, your family, and everyone you know. To tackle something as widespread and dangerous as environmental degradation and the suffering it causes, we all need to work together by shifting the dialogue we have settled on regarding the environment.”  

The advocate positions seem natural for students who were drawn to St. John’s Catholic and Vincentian values, in particular those of the Catholic Scholars program. Brooke is also a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the University’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and volunteers as a religious education instructor in Maryland. She aspires to a career in television production, perhaps in late-night comedy.

Sarah, from Richmond Hill, Queens, plans to pursue a master’s degree in Criminology and Justice at St. John’s. Before earning her undergraduate degree in May, she will deliver a presentation for policy makers on the relationship between climate change and migration. That follows several published editorials in the Queens Chronicle, Queens Gazette, and the Gotham Gazette.

“Climate refugees will be the biggest group of migrants in the coming years due to environmental degradation,” Sarah predicted.  

Cecilia, meanwhile, envisions a future as a television writer, but is open to other opportunities in the entertainment industry. She will continue her work as an advocate. “My faith has always been important to me and I have learned so much.”