December 19, 2019, Vatican City – Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, System Vice President of Environmental Sustainability for CommonSpirit Health, was one of 70 leaders to participate in the 2019 Laudato Si’ Challenge.
The event, which was December 3-5, 2019, in Rome, takes its inspiration from the 2015 encyclical by Pope Francis on the environmental dangers the world is facing and the devastation that climate change is causing to all, especially vulnerable people. The challenge is sponsored by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson of Ghana, Prefect of the Holy See Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
The 2019 Challenge “seeks to address forced displacement by empowering one million families by 2021 – supporting the vision of the [United Nations’] Sustainable Development Goals,” Sister Mary Ellen explained. “What the participants of the challenge are trying to do is help people stay in their homes and to find ways to empower them if they are forced to migrate."
Sister Mary Ellen was invited to the conference by Eric Harr, Co-Founder and CEO of The Laudato Si’ Challenge, because of her long-time involvement in environmental sustainability, first with Dignity Health and now with CommonSpirit Health.
Sister Mary Ellen explained that the event brings together leaders from the public, private, and faith sectors to make specific commitments to empower one million vulnerable families facing forced migration to “be the protagonists in their own solutions” by 2021 – supporting the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals “as a human dignity narrative, that leaves no one behind.”
About 20 organizations made commitments during the Challenge, she said. Commitments included opening schools in Jordan for the children of Syrian refugees and providing migrants and refugees with simple but livable homes made from 3D printing. The Challenge provides an opportunity for organizations to make specific commitments with partners.
Sister Mary Ellen said she was invited to the event, in part, to give a presentation on the sustainability efforts of CommonSpirit Health. Along with helping people to deal with the effects of climate change, she said, “we are moving upstream to mitigate its effects. This includes reducing our own climate footprint, empowering our health care leaders to speak out about the connection between our health and climate change, and working to ensure that not only are our buildings strong and resilient in the face of extreme weather events, but that our communities and the populations we serve are strong and resilient as well.
She also announced CommonSpirit Health’s own commitment “to expand our Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention Response Program to an additional 10 to 15 families in the next one to three years,” she said. CommonSpirit’s program trains doctors, nurses, and staff members to recognize the signs of human traffickers and their victims and to make sure that the victims receive “trauma-informed care” in a safe environment.
Human trafficking incidents tend to increase during disasters caused by climate change and environmental degradation, Sister Mary Ellen said. Climate change can also result in conflict, poverty, droughts, and forced migration – all of which make people more vulnerable to human trafficking, she said.
CommonSpirit hopes to add another component to the program, Sister Mary Ellen said. “We want to expand our community-based, community-owned program focused on preventing vulnerable populations from being victims in the first place,” she said. Ideally, the program would draw people from law enforcement, health care, and schools, as well as local politicians and concerned citizens and survivors, who would work together to address an area of concern to the community: human trafficking, domestic abuse, or child abuse, she said.
While organizations have already been working on helping people who are displaced, Sister Mary Ellen believes that the 2019 Challenge’s connection to Pope Francis and to Cardinal Turkson brings these efforts to a new level. Cardinal Turkson will send out a challenge to the Catholic community including parishes, schools, universities, and hospitals to become involved in these efforts.
Sister Mary Ellen said attending the Laudato Si’ Challenge and watching the development of partnerships brings her hope. “If we work together, our communities will be healthier and more resilient,” she said. “We’re going to be a much stronger community because of the relationships we’ve built up, more respectful of one another. Everyone will be at the table so everyone’s voice will be heard.”
June 27, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Cecilia Espenilla, OP, International Justice Promoter from Dominican Sisters International (DSI), spoke to Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Motherhouse in early June about her work with the Dominican Order throughout the world. She spoke of her collaboration with Justice Promoters from the continents of Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and North America to bring about the vision of justice and peace called for in the Gospel.
Specifically, Sister Cecilia spoke of the efforts of the DSI, the regional Justice Promoters, and Dominicans throughout the world, to end human trafficking and bring healing to the victims.
“We’re trying to strengthen this international network” to address the global human trafficking problem, she said. The victims – the majority women and girls – come from throughout the world, but are more likely to be from families suffering from poverty and violence, and are often deceived by human traffickers in their efforts to find employment. Victims come from all areas of the world and can be sent any other area of the world.
The purpose of human trafficking “is always exploitation” for the gain of the traffickers, Sister Cecilia said. “In 2009, the human trafficking industry generated $32 billion” in areas such as sex trafficking and forced labor in construction, mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and domestic servitude. Human trafficking, she said, is less risky for the traffickers than other illegal activities – such as trafficking drugs and arms – because of the difficulties in persecution and the availability of people to exploit.
Watch a video of Sister Cecilia’s presentation below.