Saint Viator Students, Faculty Participate in Inaugural Youth Climate Summit

In early April, several current Saint Viator High School students joined alumni, faculty, and staff members, along with peers from other Illinois schools and parishes to take up the call for action issued by Pope Francis in his Laudato Si' encyclical. Together, the students and adults held the first Youth Climate Summit to address issues like climate change, sustainability, environmental advocacy, and industrial/institutional practices.

Those gathered heard presentations and participated in workshops led by Sean Ruane, co-founder of Just Roots Chicago, Kayla Jacobs, Director of Programs for the Laudato Si' Ministries of the Diocese of Joliet, Mike Galeski of the Carbon Disclosure Project, environmental advocate Alex Haraus, and Jennifer Snyder, a teacher and member of the Global Jesuit Ecological Task Force.

"The information shared and discussed really touched on the concerns expressed by Pope Francis but more importantly, reacted to his urgent call for action," said Jason Wilhite (SVHS '15) Campus Minister at Saint Viator. "Throughout this year, mental health and protecting our planet are the two things our students have made as priorities in Campus Ministry."

The Youth Climate Summit was initiated by Jacobs, who has been working together with alumnus Mary O'Connell, and faculty at Saint Viator, Loyola Academy, Nazareth Academy and other schools. More than 60 students attended the one-day event and many were involved in the planning. They helped shape the agenda by choosing topics and identifying key speakers.

"This was an event in which students took a key leadership role," Wilhite said. "The Summit was a great start but it has created important action steps that the students hope to champion with their peers."

Students learned about agriculture, the process of transporting food from growers to consumers, sustainability, environmental impact of farming and industry, and the ways in which communities can work together to create a positive environmental impact while addressing concerns including climate and hunger.

As much as the goal is to build awareness throughout area schools and dioceses, the Summit was noticed elsewhere - a member of the Vatican communication staff reached out to learn more about what took place for a possible article from Rome.

"The Pope was particularly clear that this is not something that he wants Catholics to spend time discussing 'he wants action, and he wants it quickly,'" Wilhite said. "We will be very active at Saint Viator to address issues like food poverty, sustainability, and environmental advocacy. I think we will see these students be active right away. Hopefully their work encourages others to get involved with them."

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