by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
On November 14th (originally scheduled for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th), Pope Francis will do a very Franciscan thing. He will call the entire Catholic world for a seven-year effort to implement his historic encyclical, Laudato Si’.
Most informed Catholics understand the scope and depth of that document. It stands as perhaps the most significant papal statement in the 130 years of modern Catholic Social Teaching – because in it the Holy Father has joined the life of the planet with the future of the human race.
Francis’ intention is that for years to come his plan for implementing Laudato Si’ will (should) occupy much of Catholic life, because the Pope is directing his call to every aspect of our Church’s life. He prefaces this all-encompassing initiative in a poetic way, saying: “From the hands of God, we have received a garden; we cannot leave a desert to our children.”
This action platform will offer plans for Catholic institutions, communities and families to discern and implement responses to Laudato Si’. Appropriately what follows here is taken in a large measure from one of those very institutions: a Catholic parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, Virginia. There, the parochial Integrity of Creation Committee has outlined with clarity what is already known about the specifics which Pope Francis began to lay out initially.
The platform is expected to focus on seven sectors of Catholic institutions: families, parishes, schools, hospitals, businesses, organizations and religious orders. In a word, the whole Church is being called to active engagement in what the Pope calls for: our common home, “a garden, not a desert”.
In addition, this modern Francis will flesh out the goals for his action plan: interwoven responses to the cry of the earth, to the cry of the poor; ecological economics; adoption of simple lifestyles; ecological education; ecological spirituality; and community involvement.
Alongside this ambitious proposal from our global pastor is a similar all-embracing vision called the Catholic Nonviolent Initiative. The CNI points to an integration of the theology and practice of Gospel nonviolence with the Laudato Si’ plan. It sees violence done at every level of creation as the “hilo conductor” (the conducting wire) in every threat to our common home. Put more positively, CNI insists that the practice of nonviolence individually, collectively, nationally and internationally offers a clear pathway to reversing the destruction of Mother Earth.
One can only imagine the epochal conversion which Pope Francis’ plan could bring about. One-seventh of the world’s human population, Catholics, dedicated in a serious and consistent way to the goals of this plan! It would greatly advance the “new normal” spoken about by the Pope as he envisions a different post-pandemic world. We can only pray, hope and do our part to see that this seed planted will find fertile soil in the heart and soul of our sisters and brothers in the faith; that it will not fall on rocky ground and gradually be neglected; that it will not fall among the weeds and brambles of self-interest; above all that it will not initially be received enthusiastically but wither and die for lack of deep roots (Luke 8:11-15).
A final personal reflection. Does it not seem that this entire Laudato Si’ program may stand as Pope Bergoglio’s last will and testament? He is approaching his 85th year, and the urgency of his cri de coeur on behalf of the “Garden given us by God” sounds much like a final plea to the Church and humanity. Naturally none of us wants to think about a post-Francis era and thoughts about his inevitable decline and death are avoided. But this all-encompassing and universal proposal may ultimately be seen as a final gift from this fantastic Pope Francis to the human family.
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.