Ahead of Laudato Si’ Week which begins on May 19th, the spirit of Pope Francis’s encyclical urges us to heed the call for care for our common home.

The encyclical, released in 2015, delivered a powerful message on climate change, inequality and the imperative of environmental stewardship. With its profound emphasis on the interconnectedness of all life and the urgent need for solutions, Laudato Si’ helps us understand the intersection between our social systems and the natural environment, an interaction which Pope Francis refers to as “integral ecology”.

Pope Francis’ words challenged nations, organisations and individuals alike to confront the ecological crisis with courage and compassion. They highlighted how important it is that people of faith work strategically, and together, to meet the threat to our environment.

In 2012, Australian social change organisation Jesuit Social Services established an Environmental Way of Proceeding and, in response to Pope Francis’ call to action, in 2021 developed an Ecological Justice Strategy, both of which inform all aspects of the organisation’s work. One important initiative established by Jesuit Social Services is the Centre for Just Places, which recognises the critical need for communities to develop localised, place-based solutions to growing environmental challenges.

In Melbourne’s West, for example, the Centre collaborated with over 44 Community Health and Community Service Organisations (CHCSOs) to support them as they faced the interlocking challenges of climate change, health and social justice. CHCSOs play a critical role in building resilience in the face of the social and health impacts of climate change. They provide vital support services, and build strong networks and relationships within communities. Without the resources to plan and adapt to change, however, the sector itself is vulnerable to the impact of climate change, posing a risk of flow-on consequences for the communities they support.

The rapid urbanisation of Melbourne’s western suburbs has heightened the risks of extreme heat and its associated impact on health. Jesuit Social Services’ 2021 Dropping off the Edge report into locational disadvantage illuminates how factors such as housing stress, insufficient green canopy cover, and overcrowding can worsen these challenges, underscoring the need to address social inequalities in tandem with climate resilience efforts.

The Centre’s work helped CHSCOs to understand the localised and systemic factors that made them vulnerable to climate change through their creation of a Collaborative Action Plan for Climate Justice, which outlines a strategy for building just and equitable climate resilience in Melbourne’s West. Its collaborative, locally-led approach created a shared vision of climate justice that will support community members at greatest risk to climate change impacts.

In an earlier posting on Jesuit Social Services’ Andy Hamilton SJ wrote, “As does all Ignatian reading of the signs of the times, the approach to climate justice begins with attending to the world in all its complexity, reflects on those who are disadvantaged within it and their needs, and strives to build just communities alongside the organisations that support them”.

Jesuit Social Services engages in ongoing efforts to raise environmental awareness within the community and to advocate for lasting change extend beyond Laudato Si’ week.  We do, however, acknowledge this week as an opportunity to reflect on how we can better safeguard our common home. We must continue to recognise the disproportionate effects of ecological harm and climate change.