A highly visible approach to promote environmental progress in Iowa is the focus of 22 new billboards, sponsored by Catholic Sisters for a Healthy Earth.

"Standing with Pope Francis, Caring for our Common Home," is related to, and prompted by the 2015 encyclical from Pope Francis. "Laudato Si" was released in June.

Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, which includes congregations in Davenport and Rock Island, is the force behind the billboards. The initiative for the campaign came from part of that organization, Catholic Sisters for a Healthy Earth.

There are five billboards in the Quad-Cities, including one in Davenport (at 410 E. Fourth Street), and one in Rock Island (across from the Botanical Center).

The majority have been erected in Des Moines, according to Lisa Martin Bellomy, communications director for the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport.

The aim is to focus on various topics, such as carbon emissions, clean energy policies and financial assistance to developing countries. The billboards will, it's hoped, bring the topics especially to the attention of elected officials, including those in the Iowa Legislature, Bellomy said. The 2016 session began Jan. 11.

Nuns, including the Benedictine Sisters at St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, have long been involved in raising awareness on topics of public interest, according to Sister Sandra Brunenn, prioress.

"Using a billboard is a new avenue," she said. "We are reaching a wider public than we would, ordinarily."

The congregations "walk the walk" with the billboards. Sister Kathleen Storms manages the Our Lady of the Prairie Center in rural Wheatland, Iowa, a retreat owned by the Humility of Mary congregation.

Storms explained that retreats include "a real commitment to feature healthy foods." This means there is a greenhouse, a practice of organic gardening, and coordination with local farmers to obtain organic meat, eggs and honey.

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In addition, conservation measures are practiced, and there have been pollinator strips established along the lane to the retreat, attracting bees and butterflies, Storms said.

At the Rock Island monastery, Brunenn said the structures are heated and cooled by a geothermal system, and the sisters conserve water, electricity and practice recycling.

This year, too, the Benedictine sisters are involved in a study project on the issue of climate change, "so we can be better informed, ourselves, when we inform others," Brunenn said. 

The "Care for Our Common Home" message was first shared in September during the pope's visit to the U.S., through ads in the USA Today newspaper. The sisters also collaborated on a Gospel-themed message in 2012, a billboard on immigration.

Catholic sisters who collaborated on the billboard, in addition to the nuns from Davenport and Rock Island: Franciscan Sisters of Clinton; Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wis.; Sisters of Mercy of the West, Midwest region; Notre Dame Sisters of the Central Province; Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, LaCrosse, Wis; Sisters United News and from Dubuque: Sisters of the Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Franciscan Sisters and Visitation Sisters.

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