Susan Tobia

Eighty people walked through the doors at St. Thomas of Villanova Church to attend EcoPhilly’s third annual conference on Feb. 24, many there for the first time. They represented 29 parishes and religious organizations, five educational institutions (including three high schools), and  two environmental advocacy organizations. Click here to view an attendee list.

Nicholas Collura, co-founder of EcoPhilly, alongside John Humphreys, set the tone for the day with reference to the parable of the vine and the branches. We are all intertwined in the care of God’s creation, and, in collaborating with one another, our branches grow stronger and spread further.

The conference borrowed a theme from environmental activist Joanna Macy, author of Active Hope: “There is no hope without action and no action without hope.” This theme does not deny the tension between hope and action. Currently on our planet, there is a highly alarming rate of species extinction, degradation of our environment, and disruption of our ecosystems. But, if we come together in solidarity and act for the good of others and our planet, what we do matters.

Participants listen during the 2024 EcoPhilly Conference Feb. 24. (Aaron Lemma)

Participants heard from Patrick and Kate Walsh about the efforts of Catholic Social Services’ Martha’s Choice Marketplace & Community Farm located in Norristown. Recognized as the largest and most visited food pantry in Montgomery county, the site has distributed over 6 million pounds of food to nearly 7,500 families, 29,000 individuals, and 12,300 children since 2020. Martha’s Community Farm, the site’s latest initiative, helps support the pantry while educating the community on sustainable farming.

Tim Brunk and Christy Lang Hearlson from Villanova University shared information on a grant project open to Christian institutions across Philadelphia. Funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the CLEAR project, which focuses on Children, Liturgy, Ecology, and Renewal, is seeking applicants to offer a $15,000 stipend to each of two representatives from twelve congregations, as well as $5,000 in seed money for specific initiatives.

Old St. Joseph’s Church began a composting initiative several years ago. On an annual basis it pulls 230 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere and subverts 515 pounds of CO2 from landfill emissions. The idea has inspired other parishes, including Our Mother of Good Counsel in Bryn Mawr. Mo Gillen, who spearheaded the effort, explained that their goal is to get everything back into the earth where it belongs.

>>SEE RELATED: Composting: A Simple Act That Transforms Us Into A Culture More In Love With God

Ideas like seeds, grow, blossom, and bear fruit, and the table conversations that followed  were filled with talk of challenges, possibilities, and hopeful actions. A group of students from St. Joe’s Prep expressed worry about air pollution sparked by the Canadian forest fires last year. They felt motivated to get involved.

Students from St. Joe’s Prep and State Representative Chris Rabb attend the 2024 EcoPhilly conference Feb. 24 (Aaron Lemma)

Ideas were shared about parish energy audits, renewable sources of energy, animating others through the Laudato Si’ Animators Course, recycling electronics through PAR Recycle-Works (People Advancing Reintegration), and pollinator gardens. It was noted that a cultural shift is needed, one that results in a new mindset about living simpler. The challenge requires collaboration with institutions, young people, and government.

We were reminded by Michael Sklaroff of the PA Bipartisan Climate Initiative that Pennsylvania is one of three states that has an environmental rights amendment in its constitution which entitles all citizens to a safe and livable environment. The mission of the initiative is to implement the full power of the amendment.

The Laudato Si’ group at Our Mother of Consolation has been advocating to pass PA House Bill 652 which would require any new or expanding facility to provide an environmental impact report. State Representative Chris Rabb, a co-sponsor of the bill, and the conference keynote speaker, provided excellent advocacy advice on this and other efforts, including engaging people where they are. Systems of oppression bind and often divide us. Acknowledging the struggle binds us together. He urged conference participants to find their power, show up collectively, and organize. Movements have the power to make good trouble.

Bill Stigliani, co-chair of Old St. Joseph’s Care for Creation Committee, finished the program with 100 Reasons for Hope – a collection of stories that open doors and inspire a crowd. One story highlighted sixteen young people (ages 5-22) who, in the summer of 2023, sued Montana state officials for promoting fossil fuel development that denied their right to a “clean and healthful environment” as guaranteed in the state’s constitution. The children won their case – the first youth climate case to go to trial in US history!

Bill Stigliani, co-chair of Old St. Joseph’s Care for Creation Committee, concludes the program with a collection of inspiring stories. (Aaron Lemma)

Materials and resources were richly displayed around the room, helping this work feel new, fresh, and relevant. There were educational environmental posters provided by St. John Chrysostom in Wallingford, several resource books on caring for creation, and beautifully crafted Kenyan jewelry from Water is Life Kenya.

“I don’t remember the last church function I left feeling so inspired,” said one individual in attendance.

Another individual remarked, “What gives me hope is the diversity of people in the room and the growth of organizations such as EcoPhilly and others dedicated to fighting to protect our environment.”

To facilitate further action, the EcoPhilly Resource Folder was compiled and is available for public access.

“Let us realize, then, that even though [small acts do not] produce a notable effect from the quantitative standpoint, we are helping to bring about large processes of transformation rising from deep within society.” Pope Francis, Laudate Deum, April 2023

And so we ended stronger than we started with new connections forged, a blossoming vineyard of ideas, and inspired with hope.

As part of the Laudato Si’ Movement, the mission of EcoPhilly is to establish a network of creation care teams throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that achieve measurable improvements in their local environment. To connect with our team or join our mailing list, email For ideas on starting your own creation care team, consult the EcoPhilly Toolkit.


Susan Tobia is a member of EcoPhilly’s leadership team and a  parishioner at Holy Cross Church in Mt. Airy. She writes a weekly column, Stewards of Our Earth, for the church bulletin.