The seventh anniversary of Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter ‘Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home’ takes place on 24th May. Laudato Si Week is celebrated annually in appreciation of the 2015 Encyclical in which the Pope says, “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love” (#84).
Pope Francis has helped Catholics understand the connection people have to the whole of creation and that caring for Earth community is central to mission. “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (#14).
Columban Missionaries around the world celebrate Laudato Si Week, and the holistic approach to care for creation imbedded in the Pope’s message. It is a time for Catholic communities to celebrate the progress they have made and to commit to further action.
The 2022 theme is ‘Listening and Journeying Together.’ Laudato Si Week takes place from 16th-24th May and invites Catholic parishes, schools and communities to take part in opportunities for prayer, reflection and conversation.
As Christians, we are called to reach out with compassion and kindness and contribute to Earth’s flourishing. God’s dream is for all creation to experience fullness of life. Columban Fr Sean McDonagh says our human vocation “emerges from our growing realisation that human beings and the rest of creation grow together and share a common journey.”
Science teaches us that the entire universe continues to unfold. Humans contribute to this amazing journey through our activities. We are urged to be more aware of the gift of our belonging to the whole Earth community and to make choices to live more simply in mutuality with all. This understanding is embedded in the traditions of Indigenous Peoples of the world who share their wisdom and experience. Robyn Wall Kimmerer, a US scientist and member of the Potawatomi Nation says: “When our first feet touch Mother Earth in the morning, we should be thinking what is it that we have to give.”
At present our relationship is out of harmony with Earth’s rhythms and capacity for regeneration, and there is an urgent need to restore balance. The impacts are being experienced around the world. Air pollution is one major global issue among many.
In South Korea where Columban Missionaries serve, public concerns about the health risks associated with poor air quality have been increasing for years. Particle pollution created primarily from the burning of fossil fuels combine with huge dust storms from other parts of Asia. This creates health hazards including increased rates of cardiovascular and respiratory disease and premature death.
High levels of air pollution also accumulate indoors causing eye irritation and poor concentration which effects children’s learning. Legislation was passed in 2019 which mandates the use of air cleaning devices and sensors in schools throughout South Korea.
The recent international climate change reports are being described as sounding a death knell for the burning of fossil fuels, which is a major cause of climate change. There is a rapidly closing window to transition to renewable energy and halt deforestation, to ensure a liveable future for the entire planet. Cleaner air, better health and sustainable and fairer economies are achievable goals.
Tevita Naikasowalu, the Columban Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator in Fiji, has daily reminders of the impacts of climate change on communities in Suva and elsewhere around Fiji, particularly those living close to the coast who are having to relocate. Tevita says, “It takes a lot of effort each day for people to get up. For the people to have peace, they need justice.”
In Australia the impacts of climate change are increasingly obvious. Recent floods which have ravaged large parts of Queensland and New South Wales this year have had major consequences with loss of life and widespread devastation and havoc. At the height of the floods, thousands of essential workers including hospital staff and emergency workers were trapped and unable to attend for duty.
Deep changes are needed to restore balance and bring healing, rather than reactive responses from one disaster to another. The promotion and celebration of Laudato Si Week helps us to awaken to the call to listen and learn from our collective experiences and the guidance of the global community. Community resilience and empowerment is one of the pillars of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform which is being designed to support Catholic communities in this process.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office for Justice, Peace and Ecology says whilst global social and ecological crises including the Covid-19 pandemic, illustrate what communities can achieve together, they also reveal the need for coordination and support. The Office has produced a Laudato Si Week resource to assist Catholics in taking up the hope-filled invitation of Pope Francis for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet (Laudato Si’ # 14)”
Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM is a team member of the Columban Peace, Ecology & Justice office in Australia.