Father Michael Lasky, OFM Conv., who has served as pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Coal Township and St. Patrick Parish in Trevorton since 2020, has been appointed the General Delegate of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission at the Vatican in Rome.
The Franciscan friar’s appointment takes effect on January 1, 2022; his last Mass with his parishioners will be on Christmas Day before departing the Diocese of Harrisburg for Rome.
The appointment was announced on November 16 by Father Michael Heine, OFM Conv., Vicar Provincial of the Our Lady of the Angels Province.
“The position, while it is based in Rome, is really helping the friars around the globe in JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) ministry, to work collaboratively, and to consider how we as Franciscans have been listening to and responding to the cry of the poor and the cry of the planet,” Father Lasky told The Catholic Witness.
“JPIC is the heart of the Gospel. It’s doing what Jesus did,” Father Lasky said. “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation is living the Gospel today, as it has been in every age. It helps us to refine what it is we’re doing. It keeps faith and our lives of faith grounded and real.”
Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation is “part of a Franciscans’ DNA,” he explained. The ministry flows directly from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, who reached out to the poor and marginalized, promoted peace and encouraged great care for creation.
“If I do the job as General Delegate for JPIC right, I won’t be in Rome all the time. I’ll be with our friars, especially in the developing world,” Father Lasky said.
Father Lasky is no stranger to this kind of work. His ministry has included involvement in the JPIC efforts of the Conventual Franciscans throughout the world, including with the Conventual Franciscan Federation of North America, Great Britain, Ireland and Australia; and with Franciscans International, which represents the order at the United Nations.
Prior to his assignment as pastor of Our Lady of Hope and St. Patrick parishes in 2020, he did extensive work with the Little Portion Farm in Baltimore, a three-acre farm focused on providing fresh food to those in need while using sustainable farming methods to restore the health of the land. The farm supplies upwards of 30,000 lbs. of food each year to soup kitchens and other food programs in Baltimore city, caring for creation as it feeds the hungry and sustainably tends to the land.
As pastor of Our Lady and St. Patrick parishes, Father Lasky helped spearhead revitalization efforts in the Shamokin area through Faith Alliance Revitalization, a multi-faith and multi-agency partnership focused on rebuilding Shamokin and its surrounding communities. Father Lasky also worked with several classes of students from Bucknell University focused on projects of sustainable development in the area.
The three coal region parishes under the spiritual care of the Franciscans – Our Lady of Hope in Coal Township, St. Patrick in Trevorton and Mother Cabrini in Shamokin – have united in a collaborative effort, Reviving Together. Through this initiative, the parishes collaborate with neighbors, local government and state and federal agencies in rebuilding the coal region. Efforts have included various ministries, including ministry to those suffering from food insecurity, the bereaved, the homebound and the sick, and clean-up of green space.
“We realize that we’re growing smaller, but we see it as an opportunity rather than giving into diminishment,” Father Lasky said of the collaboration. “We see it as an opportunity to think outside the box and develop something new, and to reach out in JPIC ministry.”
The efforts established a new food pantry and a clothing closet at St. Patrick Parish, and relocated the food pantry at Our Lady’s to a facility that is more physically accessible.
“At Our Lady’s, where we have a food pantry and a soup kitchen, faith gives people the opportunity to reach out and share when they hear the cry of those who are poor, in need or vulnerable,” Father Lasky said.
In February of 2020, revitalization efforts also included a workshop presented by representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington; 170 people attended the presentation, which spawned six working groups focused on revitalizing the coal region. Efforts on building businesses (13 have opened since the start of the pandemic), cleaning up Shamokin Creek and curbing homelessness continue to be a focus, Father Lasky said.
“People are becoming invested in their community, and in their parish; more people are getting involved. They care about this area,” he said.
Care for All Creation
Care for creation – that is, the earth and its people – is a very specific mission for the Franciscans.
Yet, when people think about “nature” or “creation” they rarely consider that they belong to it, Father Lasky pointed out.
“I ask people, ‘What do you think of when I ask you to think about nature? What comes to your mind?’ And inevitably, I get a vacation-spot answer: a sunset, water, the mountains. I never get the answer, ‘Me’ or ‘You.’ We have so divorced ourselves from nature that we no longer see ourselves as part of nature,” he explained.
“For a Franciscan, we’ve never stopped seeing ourselves in relationship with nature. It’s part of our language and our spirituality. All of those things help us look at JPIC from different vantage points,” he said.
As General Delegate for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, Father Lasky will work to help Franciscan friars around the globe listen ever-more to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
“How is it that we, within our spirituality and our intellectual tradition, can speak more eloquently to the world to promote these messages, which is the heart of who we are? How do we bring this message to folks today, and build new partnerships and new understanding of how we can make things better?”
These are the questions he’ll be focusing on, with his fellow Franciscans, in his new role.
Pope Francis’ encyclicals Laudato Si’ (on care for our common home) and Fratelli Tuttii (on living in fraternity and solidarity) have turned people’s attention toward the needs of creation and continue to further discussion about the environment and the marginalized, Father Lasky observed.
“I think in these more recent years, especially with the world becoming so small in the sense of technology and social media, what we’re seeing is more of a total picture, to see how interconnected we actually are, and how our behavior and choices affect not only us, but others across the globe,” he remarked. “We are beginning to have conversations because we’re beginning to see the truth of the reality of who mother earth really is. She speaks very clearly, and sometimes violently, and there are effects that we can suffer from that.”
“Those who are poor and marginalized tend to be the ones who suffer the effects of the behavior of those who aren’t aware,” he continued. “I think people are starting to become more aware and understand that there is a relationship with the earth and with one another.”
Father Lasky is hoping to build on that increased awareness.
“Somebody asked me if we are catching up on the rest of world on this, on care for creation and the responding to the cry of the poor. I say no; this comes from the Gospel. It’s inherent within the Christian understanding,” he said.
(Photos courtesy of Father Lasky.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness