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Looking to the heavens for Earth Day

You don’t usually think of Earth Day as a cause for a religious observance, but three events this month will touch on creation, as well as preserving and protecting the environment.

A group of religious women has created the Earth Day events for people of all faiths, or those of no faith, at the Penn Dixie quarry in Hamburg, Stella Niagara Preserve in Lewiston and Franchot Park in Olean.

The idea for an Earth Day observance was a natural for the Franciscan Sisters, since the pope’s well known encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home,” is based on a prayer from St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and ecology.

The sisters’ first thought was to have one prayer they would say on Earth Day, April 22, said Sister Sharon Goodremote, councilor for the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. Not happening.

“When you look at peoples’ calendars, that never happens,” she said.

So there are three different observances: one at 2 p.m. Saturday at Penn Dixie, 4050 North St., Hamburg; another at 11 a.m. April 23 at Franchot Park by the Allegany River and the third at 10 a.m. April 29 at the Stella Niagara Preserve, Lower River Road, Lewiston. Events are in conjunction with the Diocesan Care for Creation Committee.

“We created one prayer service in honor of water,” Goodremote said. “This whole area is water centered.”

When a board member of Penn Dixie approached executive director Phil Stokes with the idea of an Earth Day event at the quarry, where you can pick up fossils from 380 million years ago, he was intrigued.

“Immediately, it was an exciting idea to me,” he said, recalling he was with a group of graduate students who study climate change when the Pope Francis’ letter was released last year. He said there was excitement that a world leader would take a strong stance on climate change.

“The theme is about celebrating Sister Water and Earth Day,” said Jarrett Steffen, community engagement manager for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

In addition to representatives from Riverkeeper and Penn Dixie, there will be representatives of Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faiths Saturday. After the brief program at Penn Dixie, there will be nature hikes and fossil digs.

Those in Franchot Park will give thanks for the blessings of the Allegheny River, in light of problems with the water in Flint, Mich., and Hoosick Falls, N.Y., said Sister Elizabeth Schumacher of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany.

There will be prayers and blessing of the Niagara River at the Stella Niagara Preserve, as well as a presentation from the Niagara Falls Aquarium, and the Western New York Land Conservancy on the importance of water as it abuts land. Students from Stella Niagara Education Park school will attend, and older students will do a shoreline cleanup.

The event will recognize the importance of water and the dangers that are present to water, said Sister Mary Serbacki of the Franciscan Sisters of Stella Niagara.

“Without water, you don’t have life,” she said.