Working with and accompanying a riverside community in Leyte, Philippines to identify a safer housing site, with Pedro Walpole SJ of ESSC and Klaus Väthröder SJ of Xavier Network. (Photo credit: ESSC)
The papal encyclical Laudato Si’ is a call to people of the 21st century for change and action. Even if technically an encyclical is a letter to the bishops, the interest and fervor Laudato Si’ is generating extends much further than the bishops and the communities of Catholics around the world.
This is an encyclical that speaks to the world of the realities of today, consistently and persistently twinning the social and the environmental, and in this sense, reaches out to all who seek change and want to do something. He reminds us consistently to draw into the core of the discussions and the discourse on the environment and economics those who are in the margins, those who are excluded. For Pope Francis, the global environment and human environment either improve or deteriorate together.
Acknowledging that many have previously spoken and written similarly on the topic, the encyclical is replete with quotations and passages from his predecessors and previous bishops’ conferences all over the world. The consultations he undertook with the scientific community and global leaders in business, economics, development agencies, and other key sectors in development, provide the rigor and credibility when he explains the impact of the changing climate and how the planetary boundaries that we need to keep in check for a safe operating space for humanity are being surpassed largely through human activity. At the same time, there is a stern disappointment on the ineffectiveness of international climate change talks and the ineffectual outcomes.
What is truly refreshing in reading this lengthy document is the earnestness with which he genuinely tries to communicate to almost everybody and anybody who can read and has gone through a college education. That is his reading audience and that group is his target for action. He provides space for almost everybody in this encyclical, whatever profession or line of work and interest. It is almost an inclusive document except for those who will remain unmoved and arrogant.
Pope Francis is spot on as he describes the changes taking place in our home, why these are taking place, and our actions and practices that contribute to this degradation. He “domesticated” the notion of the “common good” when he chose to use “common home” thus making more personal our conception of the common environment and resources.
Laudato Si’ is also sprinkled with phrases and terms that call us to care, to be compassionate, to have mercy, seemingly “soft” words. But underlying this seeming softness are also brutal and harsh words for those who remain uncaring, non-compassionate as he describes the forces and the powers pushing the world towards a relentless swirl of unending consumerism and establishing a throwaway culture.
Care, compassion, and mercy must assume an active passion, not passiveness. Pope Francis outlines the approaches and actions to respond effectively to this ecological crisis, providing a very practical list of questions that need to be asked to discern if what we are doing is contributing to genuine integral development. “What will it accomplish? Why? When? Where? How? For whom? What are the risks? What are the costs? Who will pay those costs and how?” This set of questions can be a universal guide for anything we wish to do, even in our daily lives.
This universality and globalization of the actions we must take as we respond locally within our institutions, our households, ourselves call for a renewed sense of relations and praise and gratitude for God’s creation. And even for non-believers who are enfolded in the common home, their contribution is essential and is part of the global response.
The term integral ecology, perhaps unfamiliar to many, best describes the internal conversion Pope Francis seeks in all of us so that we can bring about the change we need in the world around us and the reconciliation with our neighbors, with ourselves, and with God. We are the answers to our questions and the solutions to our problems.
Laudato Si’ therefore calls to those of us in the Asia Pacific region, home to 4.2 billion people which is nearly 60% of the entire global population. Of this, 717 million are young people aged 15 to 24 years old, which is also around 60% of the world’s youth who reckon with obstacles to access sustainable livelihoods due to education, employment, and health care challenges. (UNESCAP 2014)
It is a region of steady economic growth and if urbanization trends continue, an estimated additional 500 million people will be living in cities by 2020. But this is also a socially unjust growth as it does not reach the many who are poor, including indigenous communities for which Pope Francis has especially requested much focus and care. The region is also home to two-thirds of the world’s “living poor,” about 750 million people living below US$ 1.25/day, with the number doubling if we raise this to US$ 2.00/day. (UNESCAP and UNDP 2014)
This social and economic situation in this region of the world is accompanied by a threatened natural resource base, forest and biodiversity loss, soil degradation, ocean and marine degradation, extreme weather events leading to drought, flooding, and landslides, and other natural events such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
As Jesuit institutions working in the various apostolates, we need to identify and locate where current efforts are responding and the gaps that remain. We must identify the capacities needed so that the social and environmental responses are efficiently undertaken. We must understand better the communities in the margins and the social exclusion that is in place so that our actions are more meaningful and with greater impact. We are greatly challenged in the Asia Pacific region and Laudato Si’ must be translated into effective action if this encyclical is to have any meaning and value.
Sylvia Miclat works with the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research institution in the Philippines that promotes environmental sustainability and social justice through the integration of scientific methodologies and social processes and that networks across the Asia Pacific region in moving an agenda of science for sustainability.