This week marks the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on care for our common home. ANDY HAMILTON SJ reflects on how the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need to care for each other and our common home.
In May five years ago Pope Francis published his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si. The document was significant because of its urgency, the power of its argument and its insistence that the threat of climate change was a central concern for both governments and for church. Its urgency has not diminished but grown over the last five years.
The core of Laudato Si was the call to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Following St Francis of Assisi he speaks of the earth as our sister ‘who cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her’. He speaks of the poor calling out to us for justice and a share at the table.
Pope Francis argues that in our reflection on the environment we must make central the connection between the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth. If we pollute and neglect the earth and fray the relationships that keep it fertile and sustaining, we trigger the droughts in which poor people starve and pollute the waters that they drink. If we neglect and exploit the poor, we trigger illnesses that plague our cities and destroy our economies.
This has been driven home to us vividly through our experience of Coronavirus. One of the smallest and simplest organisms on earth grounded planes, emptied cities, crashed stock exchanges, broke economies and drove people out of work. It is likely that its origin lay in part in markets where impoverished farmers sold the meat of animals whose natural habitat had been destroyed. Its effects will fall predominantly on people who are impoverished in nations where great inequality reigns and where the natural environment is most at risk. Where the cry of the earth and of the poor are neglected human beings, rich and poor alike, will suffer the consequences.
Laudato Si is a reminder of the network of intricate interlocking relationships on which all life depends and on how fragile it is. It is a call to attend to those relationships in every point of our lives: domestic, working, institutional and international. The coronavirus has taught us what a difference concerted action in the face of a crisis can make. Choices ranging from who we meet, how we congregate, how we travel, and whether we wash our hands have consequences. The same kind of domestic and political choices matter, too, in the face of the larger crisis posed by global warming.