Days 1-3: From the FAN and GCCM Fasting Tent in McPherson Square in Washington DC

September 17, 2015

In Washington DC, just blocks from the Capitol and the White House, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Franciscan Action Network, and others are on Day 3 of a 10-day fast for action to keep global warming below 1.5 degree Celsius.  The fast will end with the beginning of a Day of Atonement celebration and overnight vigil, which will culminate in the Pope’s address to Congress.

The fast started on Monday morning, with FAN’s Rhett Engelking setting up a tent at the corner of K & 15th Street, in McPherson Square.  George Ripley of the Washington Peace Center (whose friend sold a patent for a dome tent to North Face and who now sells these big tents at a brought over and helped assemble the giant tents made out of PVC pipes and plastic sheets.  Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of FAN and I start a water-only fast that morning.  That evening, Scott Wright, Director of the Columban (US) Justice and Peace Office and Dr. Sylvia Washington joined us as well. Sylvia is staying nearby and will be here through the Pope’s visit. Scott joins us every day after work, for our evening services.

At 6 pm, another group doing a larger 18-day water only fast further down K Street, in front of FERC, joined us for a moving joint ecumenical ecumenical service, provided by the Sisters of Charity and Sisters of Mercy.  The Washington Post stayed too, and on Wednesday published a front page article about their visit.

The combined group started with singing Canticle of the Sun, by David Haas and inspired by the prayer by St. Francis of Assisi. Marianne Comfort from the Sisters of Mercy headquarters said, “Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Thus, “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”(Laudato Si’, 217).

The group proceeded with reflections from Laudato Si’ and why they were here on the fast or supporting it. Many spoke of their children or grandchildren, and younger participants spoke of nieces, nephews, and unborn generations “who will come into this world and have to live with the way we have left it.”  A Catholic Worker representative noted the relationship between war, poverty, and climate change. I shared that I was participating for the very many unable to be here — my kids in school, husband taking care of them, other moms, those working, those with small businesses or working long hours and multiple jobs, those caring for others and unable to get away — as well as those already facing the impacts of climate change. Pope Francis expresses a lot of joy and hope, along with his urging us to get off fossil fuels “without delay” (LS 165), and we can have a stronger economy and more jobs with clean energy (and cleaner air and water) and stave off climate change, if we can mobilize and switch soon. )This is why I have left my normal work to be here and to work with GCCM as their Movement Sharing and Resource Development Coordinator. I also post at and take submissions at the GCCM blog.)

Sylvia prays for her mother, lost in the 1988 Chicago heat wave, and the upcoming November 2 climate training and mobilization we are holding with the Archdiocese of Chicago is also on our minds.  We are holding that on November 2nd in memory of all who have been lost thus far in climate change-related impacts, and those who are on the frontlines around the world — typically the poor, marginalized, and least able to protect themselves or their families from extreme storms, temperatures, droughts, or flooding.

Hindu friends participating in the service had already seen climate change impacts in India and Puerto Rico.  They are also fasting in solidarity with those already impacted by climate change.  Priya Parrotta described the importance of the ocean to her and all people living along coasts or on islands.  The water is coming further up the beaches, threatening what is home.

Only if we realize others’ home is our home will we begin to have enough compassion to change our ways and to follow the Pope’s charge to get off fossil fuels without delay (LS #165)  Like cleaning up after yourself, someone chimed in.

Steve Norris, from North Carolina shared that they had tried to get the attention of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in every way they could, before turning to their 18-day fast.  From Maryland, Beyond Extreme Energy organizer Steve Glick said, “We can’t continue talking about the climate and melting ice caps in the morning, and pushing fossil fuel leases in the afternoon.  Scientists have told us that 80% of fossil fuels need to remain in the ground, this century, for us to navigate climate change without venturing into much more dangerous territory that we’ve seen thus far.”  Ted and Steve are among a second group of 18 that began their water-only fast on September 8 and plan to continue until Sept. 25. Many others have already joined them for part of that period and various modified fasts.

Tuesday, I participated in a Keep it in the Ground demonstration in front of the White House in the morning, and after returning to the fast tent for a few hours, joined the NAACP march from Selma to Washington DC, as they amassed with others from the area on the south side of the Bridge connecting Virginia to Maryland, and marched over it to the Lincoln Memorial.  There we enjoyed moving addresses by the head of the NAACP and others, and Bernie Sanders mingled in the crowed.

On our third day, Wednesday, those fasting on-site and off-site gathered for 7 a.m. mass at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, before fasters headed to the fasting site and Patrick and Sylvia took off for Capitol Hill to distribute copies of Laudato Si’ to Catholic members of Congress. Stephane Ruoult kept me company at the tent while we hung the stained glass artwork of he and his wife Heidi, who is doing a modified fast for ten days and joining us before and after work.  The stained glass windows and colorful photos from Greenpeace with quotes from Laudato Si now hang around the rough tent, initially constructed by Palestinian students in the US and then donated for ongoing peace and justice work after they left.

Explaining why he is here, Stephane Ruoult, from Paris but recently relocated to Maryland, described how with an energy project near his home, close to the Chesapeake, “The developers were emphasizing the economic benefits, jobs, and all, while the cons were low benefits to the local people and high ecological impacts of the natural gas plants.  The choice was (presented as) economic growth or the environment.” The Pope is trying to reconcile the divisions that corporations have put between these though.

“Even in Laudato Si,” Ruoult continued, “the Pope shows all the aspects of degradation of the environment, but it is hard to see what to do about it, but it is obvious that we as a Christian community are required to do what we can, where we are, often locally.  Everybody has to face ecological issues, wherever they live. When we have consume, when we have an activity, whatever it is, it is not isolated from the environment. We can’t act as if we are isolated in our own little bubble.  In France they say all the time, one cannot be a Christian on your own,” said Ruoult.

Others drop by and ask what we are up to, whether homeless or professionals.  One of the last visitors of the day was an attorney passionately working for change — training for judges and replacing judges with mediators and arbitrators in family court, as European Countries have already.  He says that two-thirds of the murders in the US are connected to trauma and the unnecessary aggression and conflict of the family courts.  He says that the Charleston shooter had lost two mothers that way and recently experienced 8 years in the family courts.

After the service and leaving the tent for the evening (camping in the park is illegal), Priya, Patrick, and I left for the airport to pick up Ann Kiori, one of the leaders of Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, who is flying in to participate in a youth retreat to precede Pope Francis’ address, organized by Rhett Engelking.  Most of the fasters are sharing a room at a nearby hostel for the duration of the fast.  Tomorrow morning I will be with the Beyond Extreme Energy fasters at FERC headquarters to participate in their action at the quarterly meetings that occur there.  Though they are not all Catholic, their action is structured around the Pope’s visit and Laudato Si.