Signs of the Time: Two Years After Laudato Si

By Scott Wright, Columban Center Director

“The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor and afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”  (Church in the Modern World 1)

On Sunday, June 18, the Church marks the second anniversary of Pope Francis’ ground-breaking encyclical letter, On Care for Our Common Home, otherwise known as Laudato Si’. Perhaps now, more than ever, with record-breaking rises in the earth’s temperatures, sea levels, droughts and floods and other extreme weather events, the nations of the world are taking notice. The teaching of Laudato Si’ is even more relevant today, in the wake of the U.S.’ dramatic pull-out from the historic 2016 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, making us one of three nations who are not party to the agreement.

More than fifty years ago, Pope John XXIII called into session the Second Vatican Council, and by doing so, “opened the windows” of the church to the world. The Council addressed many of the crucial issues of the day, including human dignity and the common good, poverty and economic development, nuclear war and peace. Now fifty years later, Pope Francis is “opening the doors” of the Church to a world even more in crisis, one particularly challenged by the prospect of irreversible climate change and the threat of nuclear war.

Laudato Si’ puts the matter succinctly: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (LS 160) And again: “Sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, is crying out, pleading that we take another course.” (LS 53)

The encyclical letter is addressed “to everyone living on this planet,” and it calls each of us individually, and all of us globally, to a radical vision of the way we think about the world, the way we live in the world, and the steps we take to make this common home we share something more than a place where resources are consumed and thrown away, and the needs of the poor and vulnerable are ignored.

What is happening to our common home? We face pollution and waste, scarcity of water, loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of life and breakdown of society, extreme consumerism and global inequality. For several years now, we have experienced the warmest temperatures on record, some places in the world experience severe drought and others severe flooding, glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising, extreme weather events are more frequent.

Truly there is need for conversion, beginning with the way in which we see the world, not as a place to ravage and consume, but as our common home, a place to reverence and cultivate for the good of all, but especially the poor, a cherished home to preserve and sustain for our children and for future generations.

It’s all about living in right relationship with creation and with each other, living at home in the web of life and seeing our lives as interconnected. Truly we do stand on holy ground, and all life is sacred.

In a recent presentation at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Pope Francis’ trusted advisor on matters of justice and peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, spoke to a packed audience on “Care for Creation, Economic Injustice, the Refugee Crisis and Peace.” In the course of the evening conversation, we considered the connections between care for creation and climate change, welcoming the stranger and the refugee crisis, option for the poor and inequality and poverty, nonviolence and peace and a world at war with itself.

Significantly, while the Church commemorates the second anniversary of its teaching on “one of the principle challenges facing humanity in our day” – climate change, the non-nuclear nations of the world are gathering at the United Nations on this anniversary in New York to plea for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Add to these two global crises the prospect of more than 20 million people in East Africa facing famine and starvation, and more people on the move - 65 million - since the end of the Second World War, displaced from their homes by violence and war, and we realize how much we live in a world crying out for justice and mercy.

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us?” “What kind of world are we leaving the children who are now growing up?”

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are invited to answer the question Jesus asked: “Who made themselves a neighbor” to the one fallen by the roadside? “How can we today make ourselves neighbors to those who suffer the devastating impact of climate change? to refugees and immigrants crossing our border? to those who are famished and in danger of starvation? to families and children who suffer the violence of war? How does our faith call us to be our brother's or sister's keeper, without turning away from their anguished faces or their cries for help?

That is the Gospel message that Pope Francis presents us, now on this second anniversary of his encyclical letter, “On Care for Our Common Home.” It is a challenging message, but it is also an invitation to share “The Joy of the Gospel,” knowing that we are called to be one family, to share this beautiful creation with each other, and to protect and sustain it for future generations. And if we do so, we will find true joy, the joy that we are promised in the Gospel as sons and daughters of God.

For while we are called “to generous commitment and to give our all,” we are not alone, we will receive “the light and the strength needed to continue on our way.” (LS 245)