‘Laudato Si’ touches all dimensions of human existence

‘Laudato Si’ focuses on human rights violations and injustices. He does not mince words when he says “in the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters”.

‘Laudato Si’ touches all dimensions of human existence

By Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ

On 28 May 2020 delivering the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations said “Investing in fossil fuels means more deaths and illness and rising healthcare costs. It is, simply put, a human disaster and bad economics. Not least, because the cost of renewables has fallen so much that it is already cheaper to build new renewable energy capacity than to continue operating 39 per cent of the world’s existing coal capacity.”

What Guterres said is totally in sync with what Pope Francis has been emphasizing in ‘LaudatoSi’, “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy”.

Last June the Government of India announced the commercial auction of forty-one coal blocks. Several environmentalists and other concerned citizens protested against this decision, but to no avail. The coal block auction is just one dimension among several that is responsible for environmental degradation today. But is anybody concerned? Are we listening to what the world leaders are saying to us? As Church, do we take the ‘Laudato Si’ challenge put forth by Pope Francis seriously? These are just some of the questions that confront us and which we need to honestly answer in this ‘Laudato Si’ year!

‘Laudato Si’(“Praise be to you”) came months before the landmark  2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, (COP 21) which was held in Paris and in fact set the tone for world leaders to come to grips with real causes which were responsible for environmental degradation and which ultimately caused climatic changes with disastrous results.

In the opening statements of the Encyclical, Pope Francis makes his intention clear “to address every person living on this planet”. He says “this sister (mother earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life”.

In the first Chapter, he states that “we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation”; he deals here with several ‘aspects of the present ecological crisis’: pollution, waste and the throw-away culture; climate as a common good; displacement and migration caused by environmental degradation; access to safe drinking water as a basic and universal human right; loss of bio-diversity; decline in the quality of human life and break down of society; global inequality. He also denounces unequivocally the use of pesticides and the production of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

Pope Francis strongly notes that “the earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production”. In making such statements, in taking a stand for the ‘care of our common home’, Pope Francis has indeed created several enemies among the rich and powerful-who are bent on profiteering; those engaged in the extractive industry by plundering very precious and scarce natural resources.

‘Laudato Si’ focuses on human rights violations and injustices. He does not mince words when he says “in the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters”.

On May 24, 2020, the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si, Pope Francis said that the document sought to “call attention to the cry of the Earth and of the poor.” He invited all to be part of the ‘Laudato Si Year’ (24 May 2020 -24 May 2021) saying, “I invite all people of goodwill to take part, to care for our common home and our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.” A challenge: one would need plenty of courage to accept this invitation and engage meaningfully in this significant year!

In sum and substance Laudato Si makes one uncomfortable; so there is always the danger that many would like to cosmeticize this powerful document: to tinker with bits and parts, to be selective in its reading- highlighting the ‘easy’ points; to engage in non-threatening activities like growing trees, propagating alternative technologies, not using plastics, to indulge in acts of tokenism like environmental ‘education’, or project work.

All these acts are potentially good and may lead to something more sustainable. Laudato Si however is much more radical in nature; it shakes one out of one’s complacency by touching every single dimension of our human existence. It challenges one to look at systemic issues. The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, to change directions so that we can truly care for our common home; not to pay heed to Pope Francis’ prophetic words; to rubbish this timely and important message or to relegate it to mere tree-planting and other ‘feel-good’ exercises would certainly be a great disservice not to the Pope, but to Planet Earth : our common home!

During this ‘Laudato Si’ Year, it is important for the Church of India to reflect, to do some soul- searching and respond actively and constructively to some key challenges.

These will include internalizing and owning Laudato Si individually and collectively; proactively communicating the radical nature of the document; speaking about Laudato Si in homilies, public seminars and other platforms; translating Laudato Si into our vernacular languages and making it accessible in the public domain; and taking a visible and vocal stand on human rights violations and injustices that is a core message which comes through the encyclical.

We need to be more openly concerned about the ‘jal, jungle aur jameen’ of the Adivasis taking a bold stand when the state and the powerful try to deprive them of the forest lands and their identity. We have to genuinely identify with them and accompany them in their struggles collaborating with important movements like the National Alliance of Peoples Movement (NAPM) or with other environmental groups in the country.

When we come across people who have no qualms of destroying the environment like the destruction of the Aravalli range ,Western Ghats, Narmada valley, or the Dibang valley, we need to take a stand for Environment. We have to ensure that the Draft Notification for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 is withdrawn immediately and unconditionally.

There are indeed enough of challenges concerning the environment in the country today, which need to be addressed. Whether the Church in India will have the courage to face these challenges is anyone’s guess! True there will be plenty of token activities to ‘observe’ the year.

But those are certainly not enough. Pope Francis has given us a very meaningful prayer on the fifth anniversary; we need to say it with one heart and in one voice:

“Loving God,
Creator of Heaven, Earth, and all therein contained. Open our minds and touch our hearts, so that we can be part of Creation, your gift. Be present to those in need in these difficult times, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Help us to show creative solidarity as we confront the consequences of the global pandemic. Make us courageous in embracing the changes required to seek the common good. Now more than ever, may we all feel interconnected and interdependent.

“Enable us to succeed in listening and responding to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. May their current sufferings become the birth-pangs of a more fraternal and sustainable world. We pray through Christ our Lord, under the loving gaze of Mary Help of Christians , Amen.”

In this powerful Encyclical, Pope Francis challenges us with an uncomfortable question “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” As disciples of Jesus, as Church in India we must demonstrate that prophetic courage to answer this question and act now!

Blurbs:
“Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.” Pope Francis

As Church, do we take the ‘Laudato Si’ challenge put forth by Pope Francis seriously? These are just some of the questions that confront us and which we need to honestly answer in this ‘Laudato Si’ year!

“The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life”. Laudato Si

The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, to change directions so that we can truly care for our common home; not to pay heed to Pope Francis’ prophetic words would certainly be a great disservice not to the Pope, but to Planet Earth : our common home!

(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ who belongs to the Gujarat Jesuit Province is the founder of the human rights advocacy centre Prashant. He is a human rights and peace activist and writer recognized in India and abroad, and has been a recipient several accolades like Mother Teresa International Award for Social Justice, World’s Top Ten Peacemakers in Action and in 2010 the highest recognition of France The Legion of Honour. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com)

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