By Scott Wright, Director
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
This week, Catholics around the world celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ ground-breaking encyclical letter on ecology, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. This year the letter takes on new meaning, as we live in the midst of a global pandemic, compounded by a global epidemic of forced migration and the threat of global economic collapse.
The pandemic has revealed to us the deep divisions and inequities in our societies, including the systemic racism that puts many communities at greater risk. Depending on our social location, our experience of the pandemic will be different: some will be able to work at home, and some must risk their health as “essential workers,” either to save lives or simply to support their families and survive.
How, then, do we “celebrate” when faced with so much division and suffering in the world? How do we speak of hope, when so many are grieving and dying? We may no longer feel quite at home in the world, and for many, particularly migrants and refugees, this experience is deeply rooted. In some ways, we feel as though we are living in exile: our daily patterns disrupted and our future plans uncertain. In a very real sense, we experience the anxiety and despair so well expressed by the Hebrew people in exile, when the psalmist asks: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (137:4)
We need new eyes to see the devastating reality unfolding before us, and new hearts filled with deep compassion to respond to the many victims of the virus and the collapse of the economy. We need to return to the deep well-springs of our faith, to encounter anew the biblical sources of wisdom and prophetic imagination, of lamentation and hope, of justice and Gospel nonviolence.
We also need to listen to scientific evidence. Columban eco-theologian, Fr. Sean McDonagh, worked many years with the T’boli people of Southeast Mindanao in the Philippines, where he witnessed how logging companies brought devastation to the environment and people. He writes:
“For a long time, we have known that viruses and pathogens have leaped from other species to the human population. However, the destruction of biodiversity means that these events are happening much more frequently now than in the past … Large-scale deforestation, habitat degradation, intensive agriculture, trade in species and climate change all contribute to biodiversity loss and, in the process, facilitate the rise of new pandemics … Covid-19 will change history dramatically.”
In this liminal space and in-between time brought about by the global pandemic, we have the opportunity to hear the words of Laudato Si in a fresh way, enabling us to deepen our capacity for lamentation and grief, even indignation, but above all our capacity for prophetic imagination and hope. Let this be an invitation to all to drink from the wellsprings of our faith traditions and move forward to reclaim a sense of responsibility for the common good and our common home…