The lost forest, Laudato Si’, Missio Dei

The lost forest, Laudato Si’, Missio Dei

Gilbert Lasway SJ

I recently watched The Lost Forest, a 20-minute National Geographic documentary directed by Orlando von Einsiedel in which an international team of scientists and explorers go on an extraordinary mission in Mozambique to reach a forest at the top of Mount Lico undisturbed by humans.

This documentary is part of a mini-series of films that focus on the work of Nobel Peace Prize recipients. The team of scientists led by conservation scientist and ecologist Julian Bayliss featured in the short film was part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

In The Lost Forest, we see nature unaffected by human activity and the beauty and harmony that exist. There is an interdependence of all the creatures, beautiful butterflies and species that are yet to be discovered. It brings into mind the image of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis before the Fall of Man.

Being created in the image of God, and put in this beautiful creation, humans have the duty to take care, to preserve, to make sure that there is a peaceful coexistence of all creatures. Humans are tasked to be stewards of creation but have turned against its beauty, destroying and overexploiting its resources.

In Laudato Si’ we are called to be stewards of creation, to ensure that there is a continuity of the goodness that is in it. In relation to Missio Dei, evangelization becomes the need for “dialogue for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity.” (LS 201)

On another note, Pope Francis urgently calls for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (LS 14)

Climate change is no longer a theory but a reality. The impacts of climate change are felt everywhere but those most affected are the poor. In responding to the local and global impact of climate change, we need a universal solidarity and work together for the common good. The scientists in The Lost Forest came together and used their talents to try to show how human activity is mainly responsible for much of the damage of God’s creation.

As missionaries, we are called to be actively involved in the care of God’s creation. In some countries, conflicts have risen as a result of the impact of climate change on the land and waters, on the resources. There are recurrent fights between the pastoralists and farmers in Ethiopia and Northern Kenya fighting for the limited water resources due mainly to drought. There is also the relentless consumerism and material consumption, along with a throwaway culture, that lead to massive waste. Plastics are a lead waste and we have seen examples of plastics that end up in the oceans and their impacts on marine life. There are also the massive forest fires in the Amazon, in Indonesia, in the US, in Australia, and in some countries Europe, and the devastation these create on the land and its biodiversity.

As in the short film, in nature there is an interconnectedness, a harmony that must be maintained. As human beings created in the image and likeness of God, we are part of this familial bond or kinship with all that exists.

The mission of the Church in our times is also to ensure that there is peace in this family, listening to the cry of Mother Earth and taking care of her so in turn she takes care of us. We are all called to conversion, metanoia, to turn around from our selfishness and think of the future generations.

Professor Bayliss, in the short film, worried that his daughter might not be able to see the different species their teams were discovering. “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” (LS 33)

An integral evangelization as presented in Missio Dei could be understood in the line of the current philosophy of deep ecology, known in French as écologie profonde. This new way of thinking of ecology is principally based on the idea that man does not exist alone in the universe and that all life in the universe has the same rights just as we have. There is a God-given harmony in the universe which has to be maintained.

With this way of thinking, we are all called to a transformation of view, a lamentation of the egoistic view of humans as dominators of all that exists. We are called to give back from what we take from the Earth in order to assure a continuity for future generations. It is a call to conversion from within of each of us, understanding that we are humans, and as humans we are just part of a bigger chain of life.

Gilbert Lasway SJ is a scholastic from Tanzania studying theology at the Loyola School of Theology in the Philippines. He shared this reflection as part of his assignment to write about the short film The Lost Forest in relation to Laudato Si’ and Missio Dei.

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