From head to heart to hands, Laudate Deum

From head to heart to hands, Laudate Deum

Xavier Jeyaraj SJ

On Wednesday, 4 October 2023, the feast of Saint  Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum (LD) [Praise God], a follow-up of his Encyclical Laudato Si’ (LS) on the Care of Our Common Home, published eight years ago on 24 May 2015, the Solemnity of the Pentecost.

Laudate Deum is a short document with 73 paragraphs compared with Laudato Si’, with 246. While Laudato Si’ covered many aspects of integral ecology, Laudate Deum takes a deep dive into the worsening climate crisis in recent years and the weaknesses of international politics, political leaders and the shortcomings of multilateral bodies. He challenges the leaders to take positive steps and “move beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial changes.” (LD 56)

Pope Francis, the champion who raised the people’s environmental consciousness through Laudato Si’, now invites our leaders to respond not simply from the head – depending excessively on scientific and technological paradigms of change – but to move to the heart,feeling interiorly the pain and suffering of the vulnerable people and the cry of the environment.

Finally, to move from the heart to hands and act together integrally, “considering the common good and the future of (our) children, more than the short-term interests of certain countries or businesses” (LD 60) who are concerned more about making “the greatest profit at minimal cost and in the shortest amount of time.” (LD 13) The Pope’s call is to interconnect the head, heart, and hands and work together.

Refuting the claim of some who ‘blame the poor’ for the climate crisis, Pope Francis categorically asserts, citing The Emissions Gap Report 2022 of the UN, “As usual, it would seem that everything is the fault of the poor. Yet the reality is that a low, richer percentage of the planet contaminates more than the poorest 50% of the total world population, and that per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones.” (LD 9)

Speaking about leaders, Pope Francis acknowledges the capability of our political leaders to solve concrete problems such as the pandemic. He believes in the power and processes of multilateral dialogue and diplomacy. In today’s multipolar and complex world, it is essential more than ever before, to respond collectively to the crisis of the environment, interlinked with many other social issues of public health, culture, human rights and social rights of everyone. Hence, he strongly appeals to the conscience of the leaders and asks, “(Why do you) hold on to power, only to be remembered for (your) inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary?” (LD 60)

With profound hope, Pope Francis appeals to the leaders and all participants to use the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai as a critical opportunity to course-correct and not to greenwash once again with romantic languages.

Pope Francis’ appeal for climate action is not simply emotional or religious. It is honest and truthful, concurrent with the scientific facts and experiences of millions worldwide, amid some who “deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue.” (LD 5)

On 27 July 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres also raised a similar warning, “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived. Leaders must lead. No more hesitancy. No more excuses. No more waiting for others to move first. There is simply no more time for that.”

It will be almost five years since we, as Jesuits, discerned and were missioned to work on the four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs), one of which was care for our common home (UAP4).

In light of what Pope Francis has done with Laudate Deum after eight years of Laudato Si’, it is an opportune moment for us Jesuits to review where we are now on our four apostolic preferences. Writing about the fourth UAP in the State of Society (De Statu 2023), Father Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, echoed a similar concern. He says, “In practically all the Provinces/Regions it is recognized that we have not found the way forward or changed our life-mission to collaborate in the care of our Common Home in a new and effective manner…There is a growing desire to do something, but we need to move beyond good intentions. Often, our actions are more cosmetic than genuine ecological conversion that requires profound changes in our lifestyle and work, which we consciously and unconsciously resist.”

Both Pope Francis and Father Arturo invite us to see ourselves as part of a larger, interconnected, interdependent system with eyes of faith and a desire for ecological conversion at all levels – individual, communitarian and structural. At the end of Laudate Deum, Pope Francis says, “Let us stop thinking, then, of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and limitless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a humbler but more fruitful way.” (LD 68)

To examine ourselves better in our diverse contexts, we may replace the words ‘human beings’ with the most fundamental identity of ourselves as ‘Jesuits’, for example, or as an American, a European, etc, and listen to what the Holy Spirit tells us!

This article is originally published in Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat.

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