Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 13
I held this quote in my heart the first time I read it. I held it in my heart as I prepared to take on a new role as Youth Engagement Officer at Catholic Earthcare Australia, the ecological agency for the Catholic Church in that country. Since accepting this responsibility, I have travelled around Australia, and sometimes the world, as I shared the news of Laudato Si’ with young Catholics like myself. As a 16-year-old, I came to the environmental movement frustrated and heartbroken by the inability of adults to secure for my generation a safe climate future. At 21, I joined the team at Catholic Earthcare Australia, elated to find that Australia was the first country to have a church agency dedicated to care for creation. At 22 and at the end of my initial contract, Jacqui Rémond, the director of Catholic Earthcare Australia, and I created a new role, promoting me as a speaker in Australian Catholic schools, linking care for creation to faith and social justice.
Young Australian Catholics are exactly as Pope Francis described them in Laudato Si’. We are buzzing and aching for change. When I speak with my peers about politics, climate change, and the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, they are irate, as I was, that adults can claim to be creating a better future without properly tackling the anthropocentrism and selfishness that are leading to climate change. They ask me why others are selling us a narrative that we can live lives that so clearly damage the planet, and that these lives are not only desirable and necessary, but also inevitable. When we speak about our lifestyles and how our lives are having progressively stronger impacts on the planet, they don’t ask me, “How can I change?” They ask me, “How can we change?”
Laudato Si’ not only affects what I say, but how I say it. When I can easily get caught up in frustration where I feel like I am screaming into an abyss and where no one is listening or changing, I find comfort in Pope Francis’s words:
How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles! The Creator can say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Laudato Si’, 65).
When we run up against the challenge of a lifestyle that others sell us—and that we sometimes sell ourselves—that things and possessions make us happy and define who we are, it is easy for us to feel insignificant and lost. It’s easy to feel that our actions are futile and that we might succumb to what Pope Francis calls the temptation toward indifference. However, there is nothing like the warm embrace of our loving God to fortify and renew one in the fight for justice and to inspire us towards the globalisation of hope.
When human pride explodes, it destroys and exploits nature. Think of water. Water is something precious and very important. Water gives life; it helps us in everything. But to exploit the minerals, which leads to the contamination of water, then messes up the environment and creation is destroyed! This is just an example. There are many more.
Pope Francis, February 22, 2017
I read this quote from a homily by Pope Francis in which he emphasized our care for the environment. It had an immediate effect upon me as I was visiting the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan during a school break. I previously worked in Jordan as the pastor of the English Language parish for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The World Health Organization ranks Jordan among the lowest in the world for water resource availability per capita, with water scarcity becoming a more menacing challenge as the population doubles and climate changes make precipitation more uncertain and variable. In addition, the desert kingdom hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees and displaced persons, creating an enormous strain on a fragile water infrastructure.
King Abdullah presses on with responsible stewardship as the kingdom uses its gifts to compensate for its deficiencies. The most abundant vital resource is the sun. Under the King’s directives during the past five years, developers and construction companies have been advancing solar energy technologies to produce clean and efficient energy. With long cloudless days, these photocells produce great quantities of energy in the summer and companies are able to apply the excess production toward credits for their energy bills in the colder seasons. Lobbyists are urging the government to create tax deductions for credit incentives if businesses use solar energy, thereby decreasing taxes. Such governmental regulations will spark increased incentives for companies to switch to cleaner energy consumption methods. Additionally, companies are switching from diesel gas to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a low carbon, cleaner alternative source of energy that emits 35 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and costs 12 percent less than oil.
The kingdom has required builders to designate green space within all new construction projects, including exterior building renovations (even for residential apartments); the builder then must get municipality approval for the green space. Vegetation in the desert is sparse; in the city of Amman, it is not uncommon for one walking along a sidewalk to find a tree planted in the middle of the path. The Jordanians do like their trees and bushes and want them planted wherever their growth can be sustainable.
Construction companies extend their good will to residents of the poorer southern parts of the kingdom by building parks in those areas, creating soccer and playing fields, and then planting trees so the fields are shaded from the sun. The Saudis are installing windmills in the barren Arabian desert, and these conserve the desert lifestyle.
When I left Amman for the United States three years ago, I was lamenting the pervasive habit of littering that tarnished the city. Jordanians were always boastful that Amman was the cleanest Arab city, but this littering became a source for shame as they built up their tourism industry. The Amman municipality within the past two years has doubled its efforts in sanitation and trash collection to return the city to a place of pride. The government has removed abandoned cars from sidewalks and parking areas and the residents are caring for their small corners of the city. They are practicing care for their common home and for one another, a commitment to the common good.
Historical and eco-tourism are burgeoning industries that are showcasing Jordan’s natural resources. The marvels of Petra and Wadi Rum attract foreign visitors to the nation, and smaller gems are appearing on the tourism map, like the Dana Reserve and its Biosphere that sustains a fragile but important arid ecosystem with distinctive threatened wildlife, like Nubian Ibexes, Syrian serins, caracals, and lesser kestrels.
In addition, the Dead Sea will soon come back to life. An extensive project of channeling water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea will replenish the rapidly evaporating waters. Cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian governments benefits both nations, and Jordan will get a steady supply of potable water for its residents.
Tourism is drawing attention for sport enthusiasts, some who are able to run the Red to Dead Sea marathon, hang-glide through the mountain terrain, spend a spa weekend at the Ma’in Hot Springs, or wade through the Mujib Dam’s tributaries. Tourism companies like Wild Jordan lead eco-tours and sell products that emphasize Jordan’s new interest in preserving its environment.
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) is a big player in setting new environmental standards. Two impressive efforts are the restoration of the Al Azraq Oasis and rain production in Ajloun (the forests of Gilead).
Jordanians also plan to dam the springs that have fed Al Azraq, an oasis at the intersection of three deserts in the eastern part of the country. This was the winter home to Lawrence of Arabia before his attack on Ottoman Damascus. The wetlands have been shrinking as they have become the primary source of drinking water for the growing metropolis of Amman. A wide variety of birds stop at the reserve each year to rest during their migration routes between Asia and Africa, and Jordanians have reintroduced water buffaloes to the area. While the restoration project is in its initial stages, it is the first of its kind in Jordan and is a real attempt to reverse a destructive trend.
Cloud seeding that uses ionizing technology has yielded promising results, virtually doubling rainfall levels in 17 days of December 2016. The technology mimics sun ionization and uses no chemicals. Ionized particles are 100 times more electrically attracted to water vapor and they form vapor clusters that eventually become raindrops. The technology is new and it has been successful in Australia and the United Arab Emirates; it could reap tremendous benefits for this water-starved kingdom.
I am certain that few Jordanians have heard of Laudato Si, but the people know that, in a land with few life-sustaining water resources, they are prudent to conserve and judiciously manage their precious natural resources. Jordan’s geography encompasses a fertile East Bank of the Jordan River that flows into the saline-saturated Dead Sea, which does not sustain many living organisms. From the lowest elevations to barren rugged mountains surrounded by vast deserts, the presence of water means life.
Jordanians long have forged a delicate balance between human society and the natural world. Their pragmatism requires them to work with their neighbors for sustainability, which increases stability, security, and peace for the region. Their innovation helps them reduce levels of poverty, especially as they struggle to provide for the influx of war refugees. Their spirit of determination makes them a model for other nations and serves as a reminder that the survival and flourishing of humanity is intricately linked to the preservation of the world’s natural resources.
Perhaps no environmental challenge calls for more urgent action than climate change. If we are to avoid dangerous climate change, science tells us we must dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions during the next decades.
Of course, Pope Francis addresses this topic directly in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’:
“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (Laudato Si’, 25).
I work in the investment industry and know many people who have welcomed Pope Francis’s clear and forceful call for changes in the way we live as a global community and produce and consume goods in order to slow and very quickly reverse the widespread harm to the environment.
We have seen that the goal of maximizing short-term profits far too often has driven business and investment decisions, with little attention to long-term sustainability or impacts to communities, employees, and the environment.
During my time in the field, however, I have seen a change in how business and investors think about their relationships with the people whose lives they touch and the natural environment.
Take climate change: increasingly business and investors recognize that climate change represents a risk to their own firms and to the global economy. However, they also understand it as a huge opportunity. Growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency is stimulating investment, driving innovation and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, while also curbing the threat of global warming and reducing harmful air pollution.
As the risks and opportunities that climate change represents come into sharper focus, market participants have begun to develop products, change processes, and make commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy. An inspiring example is the business coalition RE100, made up of large companies that have “committed to 100% renewable electricity, working to massively increase demand for—and delivery of—renewable energy.”
It is critical that members of the private sector also have become more willing to make their views public. Since November 2016, more than 1,000 businesses (including major global brands) and investors have signed the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement calling on the Trump administration and the new Congress to maintain and strengthen policies that drive clean energy development and arrest climate change.
The Natural Capital Coalition, made up of representatives from a diverse set of fields—including conservation, research, science, accounting, finance, corporate responsibility, and civil society—has come together to facilitate a “vision of a world where business conserves and enhances natural capital.”
The group seeks to help business understand the value of natural capital, including plants, animals, air, water, soils, and minerals, in part by underscoring the benefits that natural capital provides: clean air and water, nutritious food, renewable energy, shelter, medicine, and the raw materials for sustainably designing, producing, and distributing products on which the economy and business depend.
However, one can address a central theme of Laudato Si’ by asking whether these corporate and investor environmental initiatives simply make us feel better without driving the true change we need. Are we simply reducing the harm, while not addressing the underlying problem of an economic system that treats people and the environment simply as exploitable commodities?
While these are important questions to ask, here in the United States, where there cannot be confidence that government will act to protect the environment and uphold human rights, private sector progress in addressing these challenges deserves our attention, support, and encouragement.
Respect for the strengths and limitations of public and private institutions, and their respective spheres of responsibility, is an important part of the vision of Laudato Si, too. We can welcome Pope Francis’s message as an invitation to dedicate talent and tools from the social sciences, including business, alongside the natural sciences, to support his urgent appeal on behalf of integral ecology.
Private sector practices can and must complement governmental, civil society, religious, and other approaches to caring for our common home and one another.
Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 13-14
In the wee hours of a June morning in 2015, I awoke at 4 o’clock to begin furiously reading Laudato Si’. As a father with young children, giving up sleep is not a choice I made lightly — I was making a commitment! As I began to sift through the text, I could not help but think about how my three boys, ages three, three, and six at the time, would experience the legacy of this document. How would this collection of words influence a new generation to “care for our common home”? After just a few paragraphs, it was obvious to me that Pope Francis was thinking about this, too.
Good education plants seeds when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life.
Laudato Si’, 213
In our work at the Ignatian Solidarity Network, we are constantly reflecting on how we can invite a new generation of Catholics to respond to the realities of injustice as contemplative people of action. Laudato Si’ has provided us with a framework to do just this.
Pope Francis frames his invitation in section II of the document to educate “for the covenant between humanity and the environment” by noting that young people “have a new ecological sensitivity and a generous spirit” (209). However, he also cautions that the presence of “extreme consumerism and affluence” create an “educational challenge” (ibid.).
In late 2015, two faculty members from Cheverus High School, a Jesuit coeducational college preparatory school in Portland, Maine, approached our staff with an idea to develop a program to challenge high school students and their institutions to more deeply reflect on the themes of Laudato Si’. As they began to share their ideas for the themes and structure of the program, I was in awe of the ways that the pope’s document was taking hold of these educators and leading them to respond to this “educational challenge” in ways that could impact young people and their schools for generations to come.
Grounded in various themes of Laudato Si’, the resulting Ignatian Carbon Challenge responds to our current ecological context, the needs of the global community, and Pope Francis’s call to practice responsible stewardship for creation by demonstrating care for it. The program invites both individuals and institutions to address climate change and environmental justice through a series of monthly challenges arranged in eight categories that coincide with themes of Laudato Si’: consumerism, transport, person-to-person interaction, relationship with the earth, energy, food, intellectual understanding, and prayer.
To date, nearly 4,000 students and upwards of 35 Catholic high schools across the United States and Canada are participating. Program leaders are collecting, analyzing, and sharing the results of participants’ ability to meet the challenges so that others can learn from their commitment. Will these young men and women change the world with their actions alone? Likely not. However the Ignatian Carbon Challenge is responding to the invitation to “plant seeds” and engage young people in a “new dialogue” of care for our common home and one another.
How do I react to the monumental encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si? Well, thinking about how to respond to that question brought to my mind three things I should be very clear about from the start:
I am a Jesuit, not a Franciscan.
I’ve lived in Africa for the past three decades, not in the United States.
I’m a political scientist, not an ecological scientist.
First of all, I’m not much of a “brother sun,” “sister moon,” “mother earth,” sort of person. To be honest, I probably had never read the Canticle of Francis of Assisi until it began appearing everywhere on the Internet after Pope Francis released his encyclical. My formation in Jesuit spirituality seemed a lot less “poetic” than the lyrical expressions of the poor man of Assisi. But recently I’ve been challenged to go deeper into the Ignatian view of our created order. A Spanish Jesuit ecologist, José Antonio García, S.J., opened for me the environmentalist reading (and praying!) of the “Foundation” and the “Contemplation” of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.
Simply expressed, the created world deeply reveals God’s loving presence and calls for a respect and cooperation in every aspect of my life. While our Jesuit Pope does not cite Ignatius in Laudato Si, he–and I–cannot help but be influenced by what is really a radical Ignatian ecological spirituality.
Second, my understanding of today’s environmental crisis is influenced by my experience of climate change in Africa in recent years. While some prominent people might deny climate change, no one who lives in the midst of the environmental disasters of drought and flood such as I have experienced in Malawi in recent years can be blind to such a reality.
Paragraphs 25 and 26 of Laudato Si especially speak of the consequences of climate change to the livelihoods of the poor in the so-called “developing countries.” Pope Francis notes that the means of subsistence of these poor “are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.” And these are the realities most threatened by the climate change affecting the people I know in Africa.
Third, by training I look at the responses that Laudato Si recommends primarily in political terms – and I’m pleased that Pope Francis is very much aware of the need for political action and the relationship between such action and our joint and collective economic decisions about consumption, savings, and investment. He repeatedly emphasizes that the changes that will really respect our common home require actions by citizens that will especially influence economic decisions: “Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment” (179).
Certainly this political emphasis is urgently needed in these days of transition of leadership in the United States. A president who denies the reality of climate change and promises to withdraw from international agreements to promote economic growth is a threat to cumulative gains, however modest these have been. As Pope Francis notes, there is an overwhelming body of scientific research supporting the conclusions that (1) climate change is real and (2) human activity is its principal cause. To suggest otherwise, e.g, through the Orwellian substitution of “climate contrarian” for “climate change denier,” is to practice a modern form of misology. Likewise, to discount the credibility of scientific researchers and the legitimacy of their work by imputing political or financial bias to them is intellectually dishonest in the face of the enormous political and financial interests that have everything to gain through such denials.
However, even the political realm is only part of the story and Catholic social tradition recognizes a pluralism of institutions: multiple centers of gravity for reinforcing salutary policies and practices. It is telling that corporations have joined civil society organizations, universities, faith-influenced organizations, and even the military and intelligence communities to hold fast to the scientific conclusions about climate change and to support global collaboration through public and private institutions to mitigate and try to reverse this threat.
When Pope Francis asks such hard questions through the lenses of the Canticle, chemistry, and cosmology, he brings us to an encounter with both sobering truths and venerable tools of Catholic social tradition for engaging with them. This is very much in the spirit of Pope Pius XI’s call for subsidiarity in the wake of the Great Depression, Pope John XXIII’s invocation of socialization after the Cuban missile crisis, and John Paul II’s exhortation to solidarity in building a global millennial consciousness in the wake of the Cold War. Pope Francis, in voicing an ethic of care for our common home and one another in Laudato Si, enlarges our ethical vision, our willingness to see afresh the challenging signs of the times, and our resolve to think differently and to act differently to build a future worthy of our principles and our promise.
When I was a child, some 60 years ago, I felt the world heavily unjust. Born poor, and competitive, I misunderstood my roles, and was mostly angry. I had not yet discovered the brilliance in praise, the strength in teams, and how mercy and generosity work in our world.
When I was 16, I met a surrogate father, Mr. Charles Plummer, who asked me to read Marcus Aurelius and his 12-book Meditations. I spent three years studying that text in relationship to the New and Old Testaments, then in relation to the Judaic traditions of our fathers, and then with the books that my mother had kept at home, and knew I needed to know —namely, the St. James version of the Bible.
When Aurelius helped me see how small I was, and that my family was the first circle of protection for me, then my neighborhood, then further protection and value in my competitive realms in sports and work; and then when he taught me to laugh at myself in praising the Logos, things became more controllable. Some of my rage and anger lessened, and I could focus on working to improve the life around me.
Of course, this is where St. Francis began, too, improving the life around him, and this is where his namesake, Pope Francis, builds from. That is part of the miracle in the Pope’s 200-plus passages in Laudato Si’.
In addressing poverty and the wealth of nature, in addressing science and its usefulness, and in questioning our current responses to the threats of pollution and climate change, our Pope Francis is tackling something larger than the former Francis’s wolf of Gubbio. I say this because our Francis is facing the whole world now, not just a few Italian hills, manageable by foot, and shared over time with the help of special folks we have come to call Sister Clare and Friar Bonaventure. I love not St. Francis less, in saying this, but these natural problems more.
Today, in the science of climate change, and in the issue of world markets, and the rampant consumerism, we face an increasingly urgent crossroads. It is the industrial cultural equivalent to walking up the hills of Assisi, but every day. The only messages that can last in this predicament, I predict, are phrased as learning to “do more with less” and learning to “do more with teams.”
This is the most procedurally and practically consistent way to answer the call of our Pope, and of the many scientists behind the Paris Accord.
Here is the good news: The Paris Accord is a major turning point in history, equivalent, in my mind, to the brilliance of our Pope. If there is such a thing as natural supernaturalism (as my Ph.D. mentor, M. H. Abrams, shows as real in social history), then I think the Paris Accord answers both our needs for teams and innovation, and our needs for competitive frugality. Every five years, the Paris Accord will readjust our expectations in relationship to environmental, social, and governance matters. There is a magic in that kind of humility and its collective view of what I call “social response capitalism.” These are concepts not unheard of in Catholic social tradition.
But today, these concepts can outlast and be heard anew in a fashion deeper than politics, media, and keeping up with the Joneses. There is something sacred that happens when a team extends our individual needs, and there is something sacred and something satisfying when we learn: “Doing more with less is success in the 21st century.” This is a mantra, not a prayer, a practical way to frame the objectives of his reflections on poverty and climate change.
Now that I am much older, I see a web of relationships in nature, science, and corporate behavior. This is the reality of living in our century. I have lessened my rage, and increased my faith. You might say I have “arrived,” however slowly, to something St. Francis knew from the start. Answers are available, every day.
I hope these reflections help, and sing some praise and ground a framework as we march forward in a carbon- and capital-constrained world.
The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21), which occurred in Paris last December, resulted in an agreement to try to stop climate change. Six months earlier, Pope Francis published the encyclical, Laudato Si’. This document immediately commanded respect for contributing an essential voice to discussions and debates about climate change for four points it made.
First, the Pope brought environmental issues into a spiritual and religious plane. He invited leaders from other faiths to engage with the subject from within the spiritual and intellectual frameworks of their traditions, and to call on the faithful to generate and achieve impactful changes, beginning with individual lifestyles.
Second, he reinforced the idea of a common home, proposing in religious terms the finite nature of human space, and, therefore, the limitations that this imposes on us. Recognizing that we inhabit a single planet and are living in an interdependent manner obligates us to accept one of ecology’s premises: for now, we cannot live anywhere else. In other words, we must take care of the means that sustain our life, even more so if we believe the planet to be a divine creation. In addition, we must take others into account, including human beings and other forms of life on Earth, as well as the biotic and physical environment that supports all. The idea of a whole, of completeness, is one of the assumptions of the pope’s ecological discourse and is the foundation of the notion of a common home.
Third, he reinforced the outstanding point of individual responsibility, the call to reflect on what the Patriarch Bartholomew calls “small ecological damage,” and, therefore, to recognize, in the patriarch’s words, “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation” (quoted in Laudato Si’, 8). The subject of individual responsibility is vital for us to able to feel that we are part of an effective response. A first assumption is that our actions generate impacts, some visible, some less evident. If we reflect on small daily examples—where the waste that we generate goes, or the emissions from our cars, in addition to our fuel consumption—we can carry out an exercise that guides our behavior. At the levels of states and individuals there are common but distinct responsibilities, and we can categorize them, but, in the end, each action produces an effect and these effects are what call us to think about reparation or mitigation.
Fourth, the encyclical recognized demands from developing countries regarding the existence of an “ecological debt” that industrialized countries generated vis-à-vis the poorest countries, and it also affirmed that the economy and science cannot be the sole foundations for responding to the many forms of inequality. A diversity of perspectives and experiences in the context of ways of life for persons and cultures will be necessary to inform impactful responses. However, such responses cannot engender another elitism: an “environmentalism” according to which only the people with economic resources can live in places that are friendly to nature and can consume products that are friendly to the environment.
Once again, the encyclical adhered to the calls of ecological movements inviting us to transform consumption patterns, to change the culture that impels us to discard, throw away, and buy again, that is, conduct based on speed, and that which is consumable and disposable. Such an imperative falsely aligns human security with accumulation of material objects, and a lifestyle and mentality according to which everything is replaceable, including human beings.
Pope Francis touches on many issues that, as environmentalists, we should revisit and implement to reaffirm the discourse that calls for change, and in the case of climate change, to work to slow and reverse the process. Such creative thought and courageous action now—in our time—would be the best gift for the future, the truest way to honor our commitment to care for our common home and one another.
The Gospel challenges each of us to respond to today’s refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions. Michael Jackson popularized the song, “Man in the Mirror.” Whom do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? Pope Francis has challenged us all in this Jubilee Year of Mercy to become “merciful, like the Father.” The person you see in the mirror determines your window to the world. Can you see out of your windows those who have borne the burden of human suffering and social injustice? “Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open doors (and windows) to God and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself (Pope Francis, “Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” 2016).
What is your window to the world? Your outlook? Pope Francis locates this encounter with oneself, others, and the world in the concept of “integral ecology”: “a relationship . . . between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it” (id., Laudato Si’, 139). His vision calls for an ecological conversion with nature as its root, humanity as its heart and compassion as its core principle: “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (ibid., 13). “Men and women are still capable of intervening positively” (ibid., 58). “All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good and making a new start” (ibid., 205).
One of the key features of this nexus is security in harmonious community, both as to a physically safe and healthy place to live and as to economic, political, and social circumstances that reflect and respect the dignity of the human person and foster human flourishing. At a minimum, this requires individual and joint efforts to guarantee basic rights. However, as Pope Francis reminds us, it requires that we look beyond protecting rights and do more. It requires that we care. Indeed, if we are to take integral ecology seriously, we must care for “our common home” as well as one another.
There have been many deprivations of such security in harmonious community, but the current refugee crisis signals one of the worst, with a record 65.3 million displaced men, women, and children who have fled war, political persecution, and lawlessness around the world, leaving their homes, livelihoods and, at times, other family members and friends behind. Of these, almost 20 million have undergone vetting by the United Nations as refugees and are ready to immigrate now.
If we who are people of faith are to rise above the madding crowd, we need to inform ourselves enough to counter negative attitudes about immigrants and refugees, beginning with the person we see in the mirror. How do we confront the enemy of misinformation and wrong assumptions, beginning with ourselves and then taking it to others? What changes might we make if we are to do more than stand on the sidelines to one of the greatest tragedies in human and ecological history? What concrete steps can we take individually and jointly through local, national, and global institutions, to respond impactfully? Integral ecology, and the judgment of history, rule out looking away. In short, we need to care, and to act upon the indissoluble links among us as we see the world, and ourselves, through the mirrors of their eyes:
Photo by Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos/CC BY
Celebrating the first anniversary of Laudato Si continues to be a blessing and a challenge. The encyclical calls us daily to the urgency of the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
I recall the well-known words of Arleen Lorrance: We must become the change we want to see in the world. Pope Francis’s emphasis throughout the encyclical is on care and love for the universe as a framework for the care and love we demonstrate for humanity. It is a call for a change of mind and heart on the part of all peoples, a change that leads to action. We respond to this call to be agents of change, initiators or creators of change in the ordinary circumstances of daily living, i.e., to involve ourselves—and to care. We need one another because we share a common home and have a shared responsibility for the world and for one another. “An integral ecology is made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” (230).
This reality makes certain anthropological assumptions and implies a parallel set of duties proportionate to both:
Many things need to change but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. . . . (202) A new and universal solidarity is required (14).
This change is transformational and internal, a change in how we see the world, how we see each other, and how we see God. It is a call to reflect on our relationship with God, neighbor, and earth. Are these relationships healthy or broken? Do these broken relationships invite us to take action locally, nationally, and globally though advocacy and universal solidarity? It is a call to address policy, structures, and institutions on broken issues: climate change, gun violence, human trafficking, immigration reform, hunger, racism, global inequality, economic disparity and exclusion.
Laudato Si continues to invite students, parishes, interfaith groups, business and professional leaders, and others to study, reflection, dialogue, and ongoing ecological conversion. What is needed is a radical and fundamental change in our attitudes to creation, to the poor, and to the priorities of a global economy. Awareness changes the mind and heart and moves one to take action, to build bridges of unity and love. This is love overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, but it is also civic and political, and is felt in every action that seeks to build a better world, the ideal of “a civilization of love” (231).
Personal experiences call us to deeper conversion and action. This year, I participated in a human rights delegation to Honduras. My meetings with various groups—listening to stories of struggles, fears, violence, injustice, and corruption—gave new concrete testimony and meaning to being in solidarity.
I read in the newspaper about Berta Caceres, one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources. She was assassinated on March 2, 2016. This for me was a call to solidarity and action. To honor Berta Caceres and all people of Honduras who suffer human rights abuses, I ask that members of Congress support H.R. 5474, the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. The bill seeks to “suspend U.S. security assistance with Honduras until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.” To demonstrate solidarity in action, it’s time to write to our representatives and senators!
Laudato Si speaks of hope, a hope that will bring new life and care for our common home and one another. It is a call for action, creativity, and collaboration. Let us be thechange we want to see in the world as we respond daily to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
Let’s face it; there are some companies and industries that we love to hate. Critics of sustainability and social responsibility, in particular, are quick to point out the high rates of returns for the so-called “sin” companies, those that produce products like cigarettes (a favorite example) and continue to thrive, despite overwhelming evidence that their products are unhealthy for people and the planet.
Then there is the vast grey area. Companies that produce bottled water receive criticism for the packaging and distribution of a life-sustaining commodity, processes that, people argue, needlessly waste resources. Certainly those in the developed world would do well to drink from their tap using reusable containers, but we cannot forget that 1.1 billion people or 18 percent of the world’s population, lack access to safe drinking water, according to the United Nations. That’s almost one out of every five people. Meanwhile those bottled water companies that we love to hate may offer the best way to provide these people with life-giving water free from bacteria, parasites, and animal (including human) waste.
Fast food companies are receiving criticism for everything, from the lack of nutritional value of their products to their packaging, their marketing to young people and their predominance in lower-income neighborhoods. While there certainly is a link between their products and obesity, it is important to remember that the World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is underfed and one-third is starving. In Haiti, where cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening have become a regular staple, the same McDonald’s Value Meals we love to hate would be a blessing.
The same gun manufacturer that produces weapons that take away lives in crime-infested neighborhoods is also allowing hunters to provide sustenance for their families – often more humanely than more primitive hunting methods that often cause the animals pain and suffering, or even leave them injured and susceptible to disease. While we indulge ourselves in guilt for being on the top of the food chain, an estimated four million people will starve to death this year alone.
These examples are meant to be extreme but they lead to an important question that we must answer. Should we continue to shun companies that engage in (some) activities that we don’t like, even as they make real progress such as improving their packaging and distribution? In the alternative, should we offer the olive branch of positive reinforcement, even as we hope that these are merely preliminary efforts toward a more enlightened approach to providing value?
Are we blaming the sin but not the sinners?
Are we blaming companies for producing products that we find unseemly without accepting that market forces are rewarding their behavior? We recycle only one quarter of the millions of bottles we purchase, despite the availability and ease of doing so. Sales of “unhealthy” choices are unaffected when we insist that food companies share the nutritional content of their products. Warning labels on cigarettes explicitly detail the dangers and yet do not prevent countless of intelligent human beings – a disproportionate number of whom can ill afford the expense of the cigarettes, much less the medical care that often comes from smoking – from taking up the habit each year. Are we holding the companies unfairly accountable for providing goods and services that the market demands?
We must reward and recognize achievements as we move toward a sustainable global economy, remembering that improvements along the path are worthy of recognition because these are the best way to encourage the changes we wish to see. It is important that sustainability advocates recognize that what Catholic social tradition teaches us is vital – none is perfect, but forgiveness is available when one is truly repentant, requests absolution, and commits to and seeks always to be better.
Practical idealism is the only way to encourage those on the road to redemption.