By Scott Wright
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Since the publication of Laudato Si’ in May 2015, the Synod on the Amazon in 2019, and the publication of Fratelli Tutti in 2020, Pope Francis has initiated a global process of conversion to “Integral Ecology,” in which the Church appeals to people of good will around the world to respond to “the cry of the earth” and the cry of the poor” as a single cry. In addition, in conversation with Pax Christi International, he has continued to promote the important witness that social movements and Gospel nonviolence play in promoting justice and peace and integral ecology.
This year we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of Berta Cáceres, an indigenous environmental activist from Honduras who was cruelly assassinated in her home on March 3, 2016, just one day before her 45th birthday on March 4. She is one of hundreds of environmental defenders from across the world who have been killed for their defense of creation and protection of the sacred lands and sacred waters. The following reflection is a tribute to the witness of Berta and her Lenca community, and indigenous leaders and communities across the world, to the transformation of our common home.
We live in a world radiant with beauty and one that is also crying out for redemption. The entire Creation is filled with the colors of the seasons of Creation, at the same time it is groaning under the impact of climate change: extreme weather events, devastating floods, and severe droughts, rising sea levels and melting glaciers, disappearing habitats, and disappearing species of life. But this drama is not confined to the impact of climate change alone. Transnational mining companies, oil pipelines and hydroelectric dams that provide electricity for their mining ventures, are ravishing the lands and polluting the waters, and indigenous communities across the Americas are making a stand to protect Creation.
History is filled with inspiring examples of nonviolent resistance, from Gandhi’s independence struggle in India, to Martin Luther King’s struggle for civil rights and Cesar Chavez’s struggle for farmworker justice in the United States.
But something new is happening here; there are new “signs” on the horizon. The stakes – the fate of the Earth and future generations – are higher; the protagonists are new – with indigenous communities and women playing a crucial role; and the spirituality of nonviolence is deeper and more holistic – rooted in the gift of Creation.
Pope Francis pointed to these emerging “signs of the time” when he adopted the name Francis and pointed to what would become his commitment to poor and indigenous peoples, to peace and nonviolence, and to protecting all of Creation.
One of the more remarkable nonviolent struggles in recent years came to light when a young indigenous leader and mother of four children was assassinated in La Esperanza, Honduras. On the night of March 2, 2016, Honduran environmental and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her home. As co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Berta had led the Lenca people and other indigenous communities in a nonviolent struggle for the integrity of their territories and their sovereignty…