by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Last Sunday, May 24th, the fifth anniversary of the encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (“On Care For Our Common Home”), Pope Francis called for a year-long “special reflection” on that document. This latest initiative of our creative Holy Father is so right! In the midst of the terrifying coronavirus pandemic the encyclical stands as a detailed blueprint for the new world order we yearn for as the “new normal” emerges.
It seems appropriate, then, that these weekly reflections from Pax Christi USA center on the incredibly rich and challenging vision which Pope Francis has offered the world.
First a word about the unique place this encyclical has come to occupy in Catholic Social Teaching. Since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued his historic statement entitled “On the Conditions of Labor” (Rerum Novarum), Catholic thought, pastoral concern and spirituality have dealt with virtually every challenge facing the modern world. The list of papal documents and the social issues they have addressed is lengthy and all encompassing. Basically, this “new grace of the Holy Spirit” for the 20th and now the 21st centuries has dealt with three interlocking social problems: poverty, violence and, more recently, threats to our common home, Mother Earth. And these papal reflections have been underscored and concretized by local Church statements from bishops, theologians and Christian communities across the world. We have in Catholic Social Teaching a treasure of Gospel responses to all aspects of human life in this modern era.
Laudato Si’, however, stands apart and above the rest. It is increasingly clear that Pope Francis has highlighted not only the urgent problem of environmental destruction, but has offered a historic challenge to people of faith and all others of good will. The realization that Laudato Si’ goes beyond and above the rest of this rich patrimony of social teaching has dawned slowly on the consciences of Christians and many others across the world.
Providentially the call of the Holy Father five years ago stands as a guide for humanity as we live through, assess and learn from Covid-19. His call for a year-long reflection on this prophetic document comes at exactly the right time for us as we live through Covid 19 and try to envision a different future.
Last Sunday, in describing the aim of the encyclical, Pope Francis stated simply: “I sought to draw attention to the cry of the earth and of the poor.” The depth and breadth of that objective are stunning when applied to this moment in the history of humankind, as we stand at a frightening yet opportune crossroads between a return to a terribly unjust, militaristic “normalcy” and a new world order which hears and acts on “the cry of the earth and of the poor.”
During the next 12 months valuable reflections on the Pope’s call will be written. We hope in a totally modest way to contribute to them, especially as the Catholic peace movement in the United States. Our country has a unique and overwhelming influence on the outcome of this epochal moment in human history. We simply have to bring serious reflection and a prophetic mindset to Pope Francis’s request as Christian Catholics, and citizens of the American empire.
So let me conclude this first of several reflections with the prayer the Pope offers as the Laudato Si’ Year begins:
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 this through Christ our Lord
Under the loving gaze of Mary, Help of Christians.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.