October 4th marked the close of the annual celebration of Season of Creation at Iona. This Season is the fruit of collaboration of the Christian churches of the Roman and Greek Orthodox communities to commemorate and celebrate annually the life of our planet. Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have brought their personal enthusiasm to encourage the deepest participation of their Churches. The Season of Creation began on September 1st and concludes on October 4th, the Catholic feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of the environment.
On September 27, Iona was joined by Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer, Research Scholar and Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University. Dr. Tucker spoke with more than 80 guests on the confluence of Science, Ecology and Spirituality, stressing the importance of the great need for a deeper appreciation of how these fields must work more closely together. To see Dr. Tucker’s lecture on “Blending Science, Ecology and Spirituality,”
Iona’s outdoor event took place on October 6th due to inclement weather on October 4th. Various departments assisted in the ceremonies: Facilities Department, Information Technologies, Chemistry Department, Religious Studies Department, English Department, Deignan Institute for Earth and Spirit, Ryan Library Special Services, Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue, Office of Mission and Ministry, Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Iona Pipe Band members.
Iona’s celebration began at noon with the skirl of bagpipes at the Columba Quadrangle on our New Rochelle campus. Br. Kevin Cawley, Director of the Thomas Berry Forum, welcomed everyone with remarks explaining the reason for the gathering and the chosen location at the Ginkgo tree. He reminded us we gathered at the Ginkgo because this tree is special to Iona, a unique, a spectacular, a monumental representative of the natural world. We believe our Iona Ginkgo may have begun growing on this land more than 300 years ago. So, this tree clearly has a special claim for our attention and perhaps our affection.
Below are remarks for the celebration prepared by Sr. Kathleen Deignan and read at the ceremony by Dr. Christina Carlson.
Today we celebrate a convergence of blessings. It is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the great 13th century Christian mystic who is a universally loved and honored exemplar of non-violent, creation-centered humanity – a poet, a troubadour, a lover of those made poor: a remarkable saint. It is he who gave us his Canticle of Creation – a song which has echoed down the centuries to become the anthem of the 21st century environmental movement: LAUDATO SI.
It is Francis who inspires the Season of Creation marked by people of faith throughout the world, and it is Francis who gathers Ionians today as he does each year to continue the movement he set in motion to care for and protect our Mother Earth, Our Living, Common Home.
But this is also the season for honoring the Indigenous Peoples of our planet, those who continue to live in greatest intimacy and harmony with the creatures who are kin to us: the life-giving waters, and soils, our brothers and sisters in the skies and in the seas. And it is Indigenous Peoples who suffer the greatest jeopardy as they risk their lives – more than any of us - to be protectors of the one and only Living Earth entrusted to our keeping.
And so today, The Institute for Earth and Spirit makes a special gift to Ionians now and for future generations, of these sacred icons created by the late Father John Battista Giuliani, a remarkable spirit man in his own right. The son of Italian immigrants, Father John suffered in solidarity, the violation of the First Nations Peoples of this glorious continent, and during the bicentenary of what is traditionally called the “Discovery of the Americas” he was moved to take up a life-long work of reparation in the name of his ancestors who were among the colonizer. He made a vow – as artist-priest - to sacramentally reveal the dignity, beauty, and inherent spirituality of the peoples of this hemisphere.
Father Thomas Berry, beloved visionary and ecozoic prophet of our time, likewise lamented that the colonizers – so filled with the superiority of their own religion, economy, politics – never really beheld the spiritual wisdom and power of the peoples they conquered. But Father John had eyes to see, and he spent the last decades of his life to present the sacred faces of native peoples and so participate in the work of healing and restorative justice that is ours now to continue.
These icons will reside in Ryan Library and will live on as witnesses to the inviolate integrity of a great communion of peoples – the remnant of whom live in our midst awaiting our awakening, awaiting a new season when we will work together to save our Mother, this wondrous Earth. Please linger before these faces. Really see them. Let them see you and bless you and bestow their wisdom on you.
Following these remarks, Dr. James Robinson of the Religious Studies Department shared thoughts on the occasion and linked the Iona celebration with GreenFaith, a global, interfaith ecological movement:
"Many of us gathered here have considered the concept that we need to think globally while acting locally. That we need to be committed to and connected with work for sustainability and justice in the particular place we find ourselves while also weaving our local projects into a wider, even global network. While we gather today here at Iona for our St. Francis Day Celebration, it is worth highlighting the fact that this concrete action connects us with the wider efforts of an organization called GreenFaith.
GreenFaith is an international and interreligious initiative committed to empowering religious communities to draw on their rich resources in order to promote a more just and sustainable future. The fact of the matter is that 80% of human beings on earth belong to one religious tradition or another. So, if we seek planetary change, religious wisdom, texts, rituals, works of art, and historical figures–such as St. Francis of Assisi–have a truly vital role to play. Furthermore, as Mary Evelyn Tucker of Yale University reminded us so powerfully during her visit to Iona on September 27th: our ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis, and we need to draw on both scientific and religious insights in order to skillfully carve a path forward. Dr. Robinson also recited the Prayer of Pope Francis from Laudato si."
A Land Acknowledgement statement was read by a student volunteer, Jared. Dr. Christina Andruk took some moments to explain the choice of River Birch - a native species - selected for planting at the ceremony. She mentioned the wonderful properties of the Birch that allows it to thrive along streams and rivers – environments that are always changing. Michael O’Donnell and his Facilities team transported the tree from the Ginkgo area to the planting site on the western side of McSpedon Hall facing North Avenue on an otherwise open patch of ground. Those present for the remarks at the Ginkgo accompanied the Iona Pipers in procession with students carrying the Giuliani Icons to the planting site. Several participated directly by dropping a shovel of earth on the new planting, which was then blessed by Father Gerard Mulvey, OFM, Iona University Chaplain. To conclude the ceremonies, the Pipers led the group in procession to Ryan Library where the icons were placed on display in the Atrium. Father Gerard Mulvey, OFM, Iona University Chaplain. To conclude the ceremonies, the Pipers led the group in procession to Ryan Library where the icons were placed on display in the Atrium.
We conclude with notes from a student reflection:
“When attending this event, it brought true meaning into the light shining towards us. Everyone spoke about what was important to them and having this event outside really let me feel a connection to the better world. Everyone had such passion in their speeches. I also enjoyed how there were illustrations put up for view around the speaker. My upmost favorite part of this celebration was the planting of the tree. To plant a tree with your peers really brings a connection within the earth and who you're surrounded with. We planted life. We are able to visit this tree whenever we can, and it can send a bunch of memories of this beautiful day we had!”