Campus News

A Letter to St. Ignatius by Bruce Shen '20

Last spring, Rev. James R. Van Dyke, S.J., Prep's president, announced that the theme for the 2019-2020 school year would be Apostles on a Mission. Throughout the school year, we will hold monthly convocations or gatherings during which members of the community will share their own reflections on this theme in the form of a letter to the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Bruce Shen '20 gave the third reflection at the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi Convocation on October 4.

October 4, 2019
Georgetown Preparatory School

Dear St. Ignatius,

Picture our world in the year 2050 -- intercontinental travel happens within hours; language is no longer a barrier for communication; education is universally accessible. But sadly, it is a hundred and twenty degrees outside; seventy percent of the population are forced to migrate; and clean water is non-existent.

This is a dark scenario, and by no means an impossible one. According to NASA's measurement, throughout human evolutionary history, the highest carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was 300 parts per million. But in the 1950s, carbon dioxide level began to increase exponentially, and within less than 70 years, the concentration now stands at 412 ppm. It is a clear signal that if no actions are taken, we will take our planet into an unprecedented future.

Today, we gather here to celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, who preached that it is our common mission to protect the environment on which we subsist. A patron saint of the study of ecology, Saint Francis has tirelessly promoted the respect for the integrity of creation. As Pope Francis commended in his Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si, Saint Francis has "lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. "

This February, after two years of discernment, the Jesuits concluded their four Universal Apostolic Preferences. We engaged with one of these preferences, "walking with the excluded, " by participating in the homeless simulation. Another among the four preferences is "Caring for our Common Home." As a Jesuit school, the Prep community is called to uphold the value of care for God's creation and respond with concrete actions. Last April, Prep's environmental science club created a recycling program on campus that divided our daily trash into mixed paper, bottles and containers, and non-recyclable trash. Since then, we have saved six trees per week and 247 pounds of carbon dioxide every month. This initiative is our first step toward environmental justice. As you may notice, there are two saplings at the altar. The environmental science club will plant this sapling along the road in front of Boland Hall after school to emphasize Prep's continuous commitment to collaborate for "the protection and renewal of God's creation." Only by being "honest custodians of our wonderful planet" can we live in an ecosystem where we are responsible to each other.

Environmental protection is such a buzzword that we are all too familiar with, yet most of us do not understand how we as individuals -- every one of us in this room -- are related to it. Indeed, why should we care? I remember a friend of mine once said, "I do not care about the environment; I would rather turn my AC on 24/7." It is precisely this mentality that contributes to our environment's degradation. Some of us refuse to change, safe in our knowledge that science will one day magically offset all the harm we have inflicted on the environment. Then there are those with the free-riders mentality that that if other people change their habits, then they do not have to. In this way, every one of us is participating in the destruction of our own ecosystem. The UberEats we order, which includes plastic wraps and utensils, contribute to the mounting plastic waste that would take thousands of years to be decomposed. When we choose water bottles over tap water, we are not accounting for the oil used in the production of bottles, and the carbon dioxide emitted during the transportation of bottles from factories to supermarkets. Some people say that we are Generation Z because we might be the last generation to inhabit this planet. They may be right. If we do not recognize that our actions today will have serious ramifications, we will be jeopardizing our own future.

Consider, for example, that livestock production accounts for 14% of all greenhouse gases. You do not need to be a vegetarian to stop climate change, but you can reduce your carbon footprint by consuming less pork and beef. You do not need to stop flying airplanes to save the earth, but when purchasing your own car you can prioritize sustainability over brands and styles. Every small choice that we make is important; simple actions like waste recycling and taking metro will accrue to immense impact on the environment. We struggle with these choices, of course, because they require that we admit that we've been doing things wrong -- require that we abandon the narrow self-interests that drive us to indulge at the expense of others and of generations to come. For those who are unwilling to change because it is "inconvenient" or "uncomfortable," think about your commitment to being a man for others with the courage and competence of a Jesuit student. Dump your plastic bottles for hydro flasks, your UberEats for locally sourced food, and bring back the earth without pollution.

I would like to conclude my speech with the prayer of Saint Francis reads, "Praise be you, my lord, through Sister Earth our Mother, who sustains and governs us." Amen.

Lord our God,
You placed the gifts of creation in our hands,
And called us to till the earth and make it fruitful.
We ask your blessing +
As we prepare to place these saplings in the earth.
May the care we show these trees
Remind us of your tender love for your people.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.