by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Reflecting on Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ Seven Year Plan and its call for humanity to hear the Cry of Creation, a recent comment by an indigenous person came to mind. On a webinar that featured primarily native peoples, one participant remarked that Catholics should read Laudato Si’ and later added that Catholics should become familiar with the concluding document from the 2019 Amazon Synod.
I find a serious indictment in those comments — and great wisdom. An indictment as another example of that curious Catholic modern sin of omission—allowing Catholic Social Teaching to drift away from our personal and communal consciousness and become “our best kept secret”, teachings to be put on a shelf somewhere. There is also wisdom in these remarks as they point to the fact that both the encyclical and the synod lay out for us the entire problematic (in the Spanish sense of the word: “all encompassing”) of earth’s cry. Laudato Si’ gives us the overall framework for understanding these enormous questions; the Synodal Document specifies them, and confronts us with a concrete ecological reality.
As we continue to take up issues that make up the Cry of Creation, I hope to intertwine insights from both of these sources. As just mentioned, they clearly complement each other. Laudato Si’, “On Care for our Common Home” has received relatively wide attention while “Querida Amazonia,” “Beloved Amazon,” Francis’s exhortation after the 2019 Synod less so. However, like Laudato Si’, Querida Amazonia has to be read with “new eyes”—both are “new wine for new wineskins.”
Both the secular and religious media expected some dramatic changes in Catholic Church practices as a result of the Synod—particularly questions around the ordination of women or abrogation of the demand for priestly celibacy. These issues actually did come in for consideration at the Synod but were left to the discretion of the local Church.
To repeat for emphasis: what we did get in Querida Amazonia, I believe, was a practical application of Laudato Si’. Pope Francis chose the global marvel that is the Amazon’s inland ocean with its immense natural beauty and stunning variety, and its current dire condition to demonstrate his far-reaching analysis of the earth’s present illness.
In the encyclical, the Pope calls for “Dialogue on the Environment in the International Community”. In his exhortation he says, “We do not need environmentalism for the biome [a complex community characterized by distinctive plant and animal species] but ignores the Amazonian peoples … let us at least listen to one of the voices saying ‘we are a region of stolen territories’.”
In Laudato Si’ the Holy Father wastes no time in laying bare the reason for this cry. In Chapter One he writes: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” But ever the man of hope, in Querida Amazonia the Pope says: “Our dream is that of an Amazon region that can integrate and promote all its inhabitants, enabling them to enjoy ‘good living.’” In other words, even in the grim reality of a planet looking more and more like an immense pile of filth, there is the real possibility of hearing this Cry of the Earth and acting effectively on its behalf.
Finally, an important, if obvious word about the Synodal process. From the Preparatory Document, through the Synod itself, on to the Final Report and the Pope’s Exhortation, the central actors were the indigenous Amazonian people. One remembers their notable presence in the Vatican and perhaps most telling, the reverence given—and often condemned by “blind guides”—by Pope Francis to their particular liturgical practices. This method comes right out of Papa Bergoglio’s Latin-American Liberation Theology roots. There the best elements of the Church have acted on the principle that the poor, marginalized, discarded, forgotten of the earth are the subjects of their own destinies—and of theology.
Mother of life, look upon the poor of the Amazon region … how much neglect and abuse there is in the blessed land overflowing with life. Touch the hearts of the powerful. (Pope Francis, February 2, 2020.)
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.