On Mother Earth Day, April 22, 2023, 14 people gathered together at Caesar’s Park on the Milwaukee River to do a river walk. The group gathered was unique, composed of four Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity who had traveled from Manitowoc, a Capuchin friar and three St. Lawrence Seminary Juniors who had traveled from Mount Calvary, a senior from St. Anthony High School invited by one of several local Secular Franciscans who were also present, and a member of the staff of Franciscan Action Network.

John, a Secular Franciscan and member of the E. Wisconsin Franciscan Justice Circle helped the group take the walk with a Franciscan lens that highlighted sister water, sister mother earth and the individuals who lived literally along the river bank in their beauty and in their struggle.

The cold day began in a circle at a small park. The group learned about the long history of pollution to the rivers and that Milwaukee is taking on the largest river clean-up effort in Great Lakes history, requiring the cooperation and coordination between more than 20 entities and institutions.

The walk continued down to a walking bridge over the river and along a dirt path to a patch of woods along the riverbank. Having befriended several folks who live there in tents, John shared several of their stories with the group and it was clear how they’d touched his heart and taught him very much.

After an hour at the river, the group gathered at St. Martin de Porres Church in their hall that they kindly shared. Again, they came together in a circle and using a talking piece, shared what was something that stood out in what they had experienced at the river, such as: reasons that brought those who camped at the river to be without a house and how the circumstances are ones that could happen to any of us; how we do so many things without thinking about it and its implications (what we consume, how we dispose of it, how we spend our time). One person reflected, “Just like the toxic sludge lays at the bottom of the rivers that are flowing and beautiful from above, similarly just below the surface of the city streets, people on the margins go to live…thrown out trash, thrown out people”.

In small groups they reflected on paragraphs 13 & 14 of Laudato Si’ and shared what connections they saw with the experience at the river. The afternoon concluded by coming back together in a large circle to eat lunch together. The food was purchased from a locally African-American owned restaurant in a desire to support the local economy in the neighborhood of St. Martin de Porres Church. Conversation continued and picking back up the talking piece, everyone responded to the question: In light of what we experienced today and in light of Pope Francis’ appeal to us in Laudato Si, what’s something you can do. The group was inspired and motivated both by each other’s stories as well as the stories they encountered at the river that morning to continue sharing the vision of making our world a better place.

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