The Devastating Effect of Irresponsible Mining Practices

miningFor over forty years, I ministered around the Appalachian coalfields. Because of this, I was invited to Rome, July 17-19, 2015, to represent the mountains at “United with God, We Hear a Cry,” a conference dealing with communities affected by mining activities.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in collaboration with the Latin American “Churches and Mining” network, the meeting convened grass-roots representatives from 18 countries: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Columbia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Mozambique, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and the Philippines.

Transnational mining corporations exert disproportionate power over most local communities with negative results, which raises grave concerns for Rome. Too frequently, the mining practices violate the human rights of workers, destroy local environments, introduce negative health impacts, greatly enable substance abuse, allow prostitution and human trafficking, threaten local cultures, and have ties to organized crime.

After citing many of these abuses, Pope Francis in a letter to the participants stated clearly: “The entire mining sector is undoubtedly required to effect a radical paradigm change to improve the situation in many countries.”

The stories from the participants underscored that sentiment.

A representative from the native peoples of Canada said a breached mine tailing dam in upper British Columbia released 25 million cubic meters of debris into Lake William and polluted the crystal clear lake where 80 million salmon spawn.

Worse, a Philippine village witnessed the killing of the mayor’s wife and two sons, because he opposed the mining practices. Others in the village received the “blanket” threat–the symbol of wrapping for death. Continuously participants told stories from mining practices. They told about violence, dishonesty, and theft, besides testimonials about pollution, destruction, and sickness.

Shortly after returning from Rome, I toured with Bishop John Stowe, our new bishop of Lexington, KY, around the nearby coalfields. We heard stories similar to those from the international conference.

One family we met contracted with a company to mine 70 acres for coal, but instead saw the company illegally mine 90 acres, allegedly because the company changed the property map.

Another fellow said the blasting from mining caused a separation in his brick home large enough to put his fist into the gap.

Still another complained the mining company never paid him the agreed amount for the coal that they mined. Instead, he found the payments delayed until the company declared bankruptcy, and then he witnessed operations resumed under a different name without the liability.

Add to these stories the discarded miners with black lung, the numerous kids with asthma and the increased rates of cancer for women attributed to mining practices, and we can see that Appalachia unfortunately shares much of the same dishonesty, theft, and despoiled environment that breeds sickness and human distress discussed at the international conference.

On the local level, Catholic parishes not only respond to victims of mining-induced floods and mudslides always by supplying temporary shelters and home furnishings, but also conducting community prayer services. These services bring spiritual healing and insight by directing prayer against mining injustices.

Nationally, people of faith must awaken to the link between the demand for mine products and their lifestyles.

Conference participants acknowledged the need to train bishops, priests, and seminarians about Laudato Sí, and extend this to all the faithful. Dialogue within the church and with mining interests remains key, while divestiture from businesses supporting bad practices requires action.

Ultimately, we people of faith must reflect the teachings from Laudato Sí and pursue an integral ecology that links the poor, the earth, and human community in the web of life. 

headshot of Fr. John Rausch

 

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches, writes and organizes around justice issues in Appalachia.

The Blessings, Challenges, and Opportunities of Rural Ministry

Bryce Evans, Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity

Bryce Evans, Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity

This past August, seminarians from the third year theology class at the Saint Paul Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota gathered for a week-long class on Catholic ministry in rural settings.  The course was led by Mr. Jim Ennis, national director of Catholic Rural Life, and Dr. Christopher Thompson, academic dean and professor of Moral Theology at the Saint Paul Seminary. PresentationFs on Catholic Rural Life included reflections from clergy engaged in rural ministry, discussion of Pope’s latest encyclical on the care of creation, and tours of local farms owned and operated by Catholic parishioners.

The week afforded us a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon a much-overlooked aspect of contemporary Catholic life: the unique blessings and challenges of rural ministry, along with the powerful opportunities it presents for evangelization and cultural renewal.

These can be easy to forget in an age in which the population is ever more concentrated in urban communities. Often this is at the expense of depleted rural communities, which, in the face of smaller family sizes and economic pressures, have survived in many places only through a more and more industrialized farming practice.  This is not to say that there are not yet many vibrant small communities to be found across our country. There surely are. But it can be easy for the Church today to focus its attention on “where the people are” as the primary place for the gospel to “confront the culture.” In doing so, we can neglect and underestimate the possibilities of “smaller places.”

There is a power in growing things, as there is a power in places that daily confront us with God’s handiwork in these growing things. Such places can teach us basic lessons and values that can easily get overshadowed in cityscapes, dominated as these are by what Pope Francis calls the “technocratic paradigm” and the illusion that human industry is the source of all things. The country, by contrast, confronts us with life, unplanned and unmanaged abundance, a force and a power in things that precedes all human invention. It connects us to the Creator, and helps people to find their place in the great symphony of created things.

In short, field and air, plant and animal have a knack for opening people up to God, far better than steel and concrete.

One of the matters discussed during the course of our week was the risk that even this place of opening might be effectively closed-up through the industrialization of farming and the simultaneous squeezing out of once vibrant communities. But this risk carries with it an opportunity to become a primary place for the re-assertion of basic human values, values that our society is in grave danger of forgetting.

If symphonies and galleries forget beauty, universities truth, and governments goodness, perhaps it is here, through the pulpit, altar, celebration, and discipleship of the rural parish, that we can witness the re-birth of culture (always necessary) through the re-integration of worship, community, and the tilling of the land.  It is no coincidence that culture and cultivation share the same word as their root (cult is Latin for worship).

For this seminarian, the biggest take-away from our week of considering the realities of rural Catholic life was excitement at the possibilities latent in such a ministry. A rural ministry demands great imagination and investment, but at the same time promises great yield.

As one of our presenters suggested to us in class, perhaps the best place to plant the seeds of the new evangelization is the place where seeds are planted in the dirt. As Our Lord put it: the fields are ripe for the harvest.

 

Bryce Evans is a third year seminarian at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, studying for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul-Minneapolis.

10 Ways to Participate in Pope Francis’ US Visit

USCCB offers these tips for ways to participate in Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to see Pope Francis when he visits the United States. Even if you are not among those who will see the Holy Father in person, you can still make his visit a time of spiritual renewal and evangelization by following the suggestions below.Logo: Love is our mission, Pope Francis 2015

  1. Take part in a “Virtual Pilgrimage” with these prayers as the Holy Father makes his way to more than a dozen different locations in Washington, DC, New York City, and Philadelphia.
  2. Learn more about the places Pope Francis will visit by following his journey on this interactive map.
  3. Become “Pope Francis literate” by reading his two encyclical letters: Lumen Fidei  and Laudato Si.
  4. Stay up-to-date and read insightful commentary by connecting with the only news source founded and supported by the US Bishops, Catholic News Service.
  5. Have a Papal Visit Watch Party!  All events will be live streamed in English with audio commentary here.  Select events will also be available for video on demand here.
  6. Take your faith and the latest papal visit news with you on the go by downloading the Catholic Church app for IOS at the iTunes store
    or for Android devices on Google Play.
  7. Respond to Pope Francis’s call to enounter by reaching out to those in need, supporting parish or community charitable efforts, acting to promote life, human dignity, families and religious freedom, and by caring for creation. Find ideas here.
  8. Invite a non-Catholic or non-practicing Catholic friend to Mass next weekend so they can experience the joy of the Gospel!
  9. Engage in social media: use our hash tags #PopeinUS and #PapaEnUSA.  Don’t forget to use some Pope emojis!
  10. Support the many people working to make Pope Francis’ historic US visit a success by praying for them to the Blessed Virgin under her title  Mary, Undoer of Knots (a favorite of Pope Francis). Include in your intentions: Vatican staff, the US Secret Service, the US Bishops, their staff and volunteers, the World Meeting of Families committee and volunteers, and the three host archdioceses and host cities.

Find more information about the Papal Visit, including links to top new stories, the Pope’s schedule in the United States, and text of all his speeches and homilies once they are given at USCCB’s website.


Find out more ways to respond to Pope Francis’ call during his visit to the United States! Sign up now for JPHD’s Papal Visit alerts on Sept. 22-28. The daily emails will include updates, resources, and ways you can act on the Holy Father’s call. The alerts will also highlight sharable content from JPHD Facebook and Twitter pages.

Working Together for a Better Life

Fr. Ty Hullinger

Fr. Ty Hullinger is pastor in Baltimore, Maryland

This spring’s uprisings in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson have forced us to a greater awareness and acknowledgment of the root causes of systemic violence that affects working families each day in America.

This is the kind of violence fomented by unemployment, poverty wages, jobs without medical benefits, lack of affordable housing, privatization of public utilities and services like water, hostile union busting and union avoidance campaigns, and organized public and private-sector disinvestment in neighborhoods where most people actually live. In many instances, this is exacerbated by the stain of racism that communities of color face.

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium,

“The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. . . . This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root” (no.59).

In offering this way to analyze the origins and power of this kind of systemic violence, Pope Francis reminds us that this violence is a response to the drastic inequality that results from rapid economic globalization and accompanying market forces that want to turn everything into a commodity that can be bought or sold. And this leads to a throwaway culture that threatens the existence of every living thing.

So timely are the Pope’s words to people in America!

Laudato Si’ and Evangelii Gaudium are fast becoming powerful learning tools for people engaging in community organizing efforts to end the systemic violence that is poverty. In the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland (a tightly-knit residential community surrounded by large industrial properties), Laudato Si’ is being studied by an interfaith, multicultural, and intergenerational group of residents who formed a human rights committee called Free Your Voice with the help of United Workers (a local human rights organization formed by low-wage workers and currently funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development). Free Your Voice is working to stop the development of what would become the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator on land near a community that already suffers extremely high rates of cancer and other pollution-related diseases. As a part of that campaign, a Laudato Si’ study group came together to discuss what it might be saying to us.

One part that especially spoke to us was the section called Civic And Political Love (nos. 228-232). We felt like the Pope was speaking directly to us in America when he says:

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.” (no. 229)

We have had enough of racism, sexism, pollution, income inequality, union busting, disinvestment, hyper-policing of African-American communities, and all of the violence which mocks and hurts working families. Though spring has turned into a long, hot and especially violent summer, we still have hope.

This Labor Day is an opportunity to remember how our families, labor unions, community organizations, and faith communities are places where civic and political love endures and makes itself known in the efforts of people to work together for a better life for all.

Fr. Ty Hullinger is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, St. Dominic, and Most Precious Blood parishes in Baltimore, Maryland and a member of Interfaith Worker Justice of Maryland and the Priest-Labor Initiative.


 

Francis’ Visit and the Witness of the U.S. Church

Rich WoodThe weeks leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in September 2015 offer an extraordinary opportunity to see the Catholic Church at all levels in some of its best work for the world. Francis will be in Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia, but he will address each person and the local church in the U.S.  and around the world.

In Washington, DC, Francis will address an extraordinary joint session of Congress. Massive media attention will surely focus on how he applies Catholic teaching on economic inequality, racial exclusion, and the dignity of all human persons to an American society for whom those issues have been the focus of intense partisan battles and social divisions.

In New York he will speak at the United Nations. He is likely to share the heart of his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, with its clarion call for greater international cooperation to address both economic exclusion and climate change, especially their impact on the poor.

In Philadelphia, at the World Meeting of Families, Francis is expected to focus on themes related to the upcoming Synod on the Family in October. This will offer a forum to address a broad range of issues that affect contemporary families—including all of the above.

In all these settings, much media hyperbole will stress Francis’ dynamic personality and global star status. For Catholics, this will be gratifying and inspiring—but will also shroud the consistency of Catholic social teaching across all these terrains: For almost 125 years, the highest teaching authorities of the universal Church have emphasized important themes—such as an economy at the service of human beings, human solidarity as a key Christian and human virtue, and the dignity of all persons at all moments and in all settings.  Key documents include, among others: Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum; the Gaudium et spes document of Vatican II, called for by John XXXIII and issued by Paul VI; John Paul II’s Laborem exercens and Solicitudo rei socialis; Benedict XVI’s Caritas en veritate; and Francis’ own Evangelii gaudium. Francis’ star power may get these messages across to a new generation—and he may apply the teaching with new insight to address new realities—but at the heart of his message will be long abiding truths.

To see this, U.S. Catholics need only look at the decades-long commitment of our bishops nationally, most recently via the work of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). For decades, its Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development (JPHD) has done practical work inspired by precisely these teachings. Catholic Relief Services sponsors refugee relief and international economic development in some of the poorest places and most desperate humanitarian crises of our time.  The USCCB Department of Migration and Refugee Services protects the life and dignity of the human person by serving and advocating for refugees, asylees, migrants, unaccompanied children, and victims of human trafficking. The USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) supports community organizing and economic development initiatives whereby poor communities are empowered to speak for their own needs and dignity, and in favor of greater racial inclusion, economic opportunity, and immigrant rights in American life.

In hundreds of local communities and dioceses throughout the United States, CCHD’s investment has enabled people to speak for their communities and in keeping with Catholic teaching. One national network of such groups, the PICO National Network, will be present in Philadelphia to help call attention to the above themes during Francis’ visit, and has developed study materials to help local parishes and faith-sharing groups to prepare for and reflect on the papal visit.

Precisely what Pope Francis will say to America will be revealed only when he steps on our shores. But his visit seems likely to spotlight how the Catholic Church works on multiple levels like no other human agency in the world: with deep roots in local communities and people’s concrete lives; guided by a coherent set of teachings about human life and meaning; driven by transcendent values and Gospel teachings; and capable of worldwide coordination under Spirit-inspired leadership.

Richard L. Wood is Professor of Sociology at the University of New Mexico and co-author of A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2015). He serves as a consultant to the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. 

Laudato Si’: Communities Respond

Anna CapizziNearly two months have passed since the release of Laudato Si’, and Pope Francis’ words continue to spark conversation, transform hearts and prompt action. Indeed, his words remind the Christian community: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si’, no. 217).

Our efforts to care for creation reflect our love for God and neighbor, and contribute to the common good, which is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more easily and more fully” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 26). Environmental problems are social problems, and “social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds” (Laudato Si’, no. 219). As individuals, our lifestyles and daily actions are significant and necessary, but as members of a community, we need to address environmental degradation at a broader scale to effect lasting change in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and country.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) responds to Pope Francis’ invitation to create a sustainable, integral ecology by empowering grassroots organizations that give a voice to low-income people and help them to help themselves. Since 2013, CCHD has invested over $3.2 million in community organizations whose efforts further environmental justice across the United States. In the Laudato Si’, the pope praises local groups that enrich society through promoting the common good and defending the environment in natural and urban landscapes (no. 232). These community organizations are critical because the most vulnerable suffer the worst effects of environmental and societal degradation.

The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) is an organization whose work illustrates the natural relationship between environmental stewardship and community building through local participation, inclusive decision-making processes, and leadership training. NWBCCC’s multi-pronged green jobs campaign retrofits homes and churches, decreases energy bills, and creates local, green contracting and jobs. The 176th Street Community Garden adds beauty to the neighborhood, supports composting and recycling projects, and allows community members to interact, learn and recreate.

The United Workers Association stands out as another spotlight example of the power of local communities to advocate for sound environmental policies that help create an “ecological culture.” The organization successfully led a campaign to stop what would have been the nation’s largest trash burning incinerator from being built less than a mile away from two schools. Community members are now in dialogue with the city and other stakeholders to phase out the current incinerator and explore green alternatives.

How are you responding to Pope Francis’ call to be a protector of God’s handiwork? The pope reminds us that “we must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (no. 212). Is there a local community organization you can join (or even create) to promote the common good and build an integral ecology? To find a CCHD group, look on Poverty USA’s website. For more inspiration, read the Stories of Hope to learn of the good work being done by other CCHD funded organizations. And to start the conversation in your parish or local community, look at the discussion guide and other educational resources on the encyclical on the USCCB Environmental Justice Program website.

Anna Capizzi is an intern with the Environmental Justice Program at the USCCB. She is a graduate student studying moral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University.


More stories about how Catholic communities around the United States, including parishes, dioceses, schools, and religious communities, are caring for creation, are available at WeAreSaltAndLight.org.

Integral Ecology and Respect for Human Life

“Everything is connected.”  This phrase echoes throughout the recent encyclical from the Holy Father, Laudato Si.  Pope Francis presents a comprehensive vision.  Our attitude toward our common home is inseparable from our attitude toward the unborn, poor, and all who are vulnerable.  The crises of our age have arisen because we refuse to receive created things in humility, simple joy, and awe at the work of God.

Francis proposes an “integral ecology” – an approach to creation care rooted in the Christian conviction that the earth, and everything in it, is a gift from our gracious Father.  Everything is connected, and so we must resist the temptation to see the problems that we face today as piecemeal. We can’t build a culture of life and trash the planet at the same time. We can’t clean up the mess left by a consumer society if we disregard the preciousness of human life.

Care for creation flows naturally from our commitment to protect all human life.  For example, polluted drinking water causes birth defects.  We who march for life ought also to do our part to make sure that families have clean water for their children.  In our different places in life, we can build up a human ecology by taking account of how our actions affect the lives of the most vulnerable.

Most fundamental is our need to examine ourselves and how we receive God’s good world.  We are immersed in a throwaway culture, which exerts its force on us. In our consumer society, we are prone to think of our surroundings, and even the people in them, as objects to help us fulfill our selfish desires.  The habits formed in the throwaway culture need to be reformed and redirected.  We must tend to our interior life and learn to receive created things as gifts, always remembering the unique dignity of each human being.

Pope Francis reminds us that everything comes from God and can point to God.  A fish or a grasshopper, a prairie or a canyon, each thing has its own loveliness and is to be admired as a creation of our Creator – not only for what benefit it brings us.  When we can behold created things in their own particular glory, we move closer to an integral ecology.  In the throwaway culture, land is only good as an energy resource. In a culture of life, it is seen as an integral ecosystem, pointing to a loving God who delights in making a world filled with diverse creatures and landscapes.

The Pope offers simple suggestions for developing gratitude and reverence.  He suggests that praying before and after meals might help inspire thankfulness for the food we receive.  He notes the importance of resting on the Sabbath.  In this spirit I offer a possible exercise.  Choose some seemingly simple object, and consider the complexity and grandeur of it. Consider doing this with a different piece of creation each day.  Let us take time to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and awe at the beauty of the earth, which reaches its pinnacle in that most marvelous of creatures, the human person. Such an attitude animates a culture of life.

Aaron Matthew Weldon is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Laudato Si’ and the Environmental Refugee

Ashley Feasley, USCCB

Ashley Feasley, USCCB

Pope Francis’s recently released encyclical, Laudato Si’, addresses the environment, climate change, and ecological degradation. An important but often overlooked point that Pope Francis highlights is the connection between migration and environmental instability. Specifically, the Holy Father states his concern for the plight of the environmental refugee. To this point he writes: “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever” (no. 25).

Pope Francis’s eloquent and accurate assessment in Laudato Si’ about environmental refugees highlights a growing problem in the world and raises the questions of: what exactly is an environmental refugee, what can we do to protect them, and we can prevent more people from becoming environmental refugees in the future?

As Pope Francis stated, legally, the concept of “climate or environmental refugee” does not exist. Although the term “environmental refugee” is in frequent use, climate and environmental issues do not fall within the official definition of refugee that is found in the 1951 Refugee Convention. This is important as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document that defines who is a refugee, what rights refugees are afforded, and the legal obligations of states towards refugees.

Despite having no formally recognized legal protection, the number of global environmental refugees and environmentally displaced migrants are projected to increase in the future. With the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, climate change is expected to expose millions to largescale displacement and forced migration – most notably affecting the global working poor. Many of the global poor live in areas particularly affected by natural phenomena related to global warming, including flooding, hurricanes and drought, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystem-focused industries such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have limited outside financial activities or resources that can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.

Today, we can already see these situations of environmental degradation forcibly displacing people and creating environmental refugees. For example, Bangladesh has been declared one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in South Asia, followed closely by India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Additionally, the Maldives has been dealing with climate change issues such as rising sea levels and displacement for several years.

Looking toward a solution to this problem, we turn to Pope Francis, who urges us to recognize communities vulnerable to environmental destruction and to take responsibility for our Earth and our displaced brothers and sisters.

To this end, in Laudato Si’ he states: “Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

It is also imperative that we recognize the damage that climate change wreaks upon the environment and the communities that live off the land. We must also accept responsibility for people who have been forced out of their communities due to environmental degradation and work to ensure that we treat them and the Earth with dignity and respect. Previously, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis urged us to recognize that the earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters (no. 183). This theme is echoed again and again in Laudato Si’. Going forward, we must protect the fragility and majesty of our common home and the dignity of our brothers and sisters who live in it.

Ashley Feasley is a policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Services at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Laudato Si’: An Invitation from a Franciscan Jesuit

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Meghan Clark, Ph.D.

Throughout Laudato Si’, Pope Francis echoes his namesake Francis of Assisi. It begins with a prayer of praise and lament; it begins placing ourselves in relationship before God.    “Praise be to you, my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth” (no. 1) who “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted upon her by our irresponsible use and abuse” (no. 2).  Peace in our relationships and respect for all of creation – this is the heart of St. Francis model. Still, the pope is a Jesuit. In this Franciscan encyclical we find an Ignatian invitation: to listen, examine our consciences, and discover the magis.

“I wish to address every person living on this planet… about our common home” (no. 3). This universal call to dialogue sets the tone for the entire encyclical – yet this is no simple invitation.  In Laudato Si’, the Holy Father models a listening Church. If we follow the footnotes, we find reference to Catholic conferences around the world: from Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, the United States, and others. A profound engagement and dialogue with communities of scientists around the world leads the Pope to recognize, “a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system” (no. 23). He understands the fear, pain, suffering, and frustration of people around the globe because he listened.  We are invited to listen as he has listened – to our neighbors, the earth, and to God.

Listening to the cries of the poor and the cries of the earth, we are then invited into an examination of conscience.  Pope Francis implores “it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone” (no. 202); “the emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own, and consume. . . . In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears” (no. 204). We must look into our own hearts seeking ecological conversion as individuals and communities. Am I hearing the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor? Do we as a community responsibly cherish the earth? Do we respect the human dignity of vulnerable communities in the Pacific, people we will never meet? Do I consume more than I need? Laudato Si’ invites us all to engage in an examination of conscience of our lifestyle.

Ignatian spirituality asks us to detach from our personal desires and listen to where God is calling us to something more—the magis. As Fr. James Martin, SJ explains, the magis is not about perfection but seeking the greater. In this way, Laudato Si’ invites us to rethink our standards and goals. Simply having more or creating more is not enough – we are not seeking the maximum but the greater.  The magis teaches us to renounce selfishness in favor of more deeply choosing God and the common good. “We require a new and universal solidarity . . . all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements, and talents” (no. 14).  As a community of faith, the ball is now in our court. Will we respond to Pope Francis’ invitation to embark on an ecological conversion by listening to the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor and responding in solidarity?

Meghan Clark, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St. John’s University.

Pope Francis Hears Cries of Poor, Earth

Colecchi headshotWhen Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, he chose the name Francis for a reason. He wanted to take his inspiration from St. Francis, the man who loved peace, the poor and God’s creation. His encyclical, Laudato Si’, embodies those commitments.

Pope Francis says in a prayer, “The poor and the earth are crying out.” The question is: Will we hear and respond to their cry?

The world’s poor are already suffering ecological devastation. Extractive industries in Latin America often violate environmental standards, poisoning the health of children, women and men, and destroying aquifers and agriculture. Conflict in Africa is frequently driven by shifts in climate. It is no secret that the violence between Arab Muslim herders and African Muslim farmers in Darfur was driven in large part by competition for land as desertification robbed communities of pastures. In Asia, the devastation of the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan attests to how storms have intensified and poorer countries with fewer resources and less resilience are in great danger.

Pope Francis argues powerfully: “In the present state of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (no. 158).

He goes on to describe the kind of support developed nations, like our own, ought to provide to developing countries: “For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. … They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet” (no. 172).

Pope Francis reminds us that population is not the problem, waste and a throw-away society are: “To blame population growth instead of an extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues” (no. 50).

What does all this mean? It means we need to act, to act as both individuals and a nation.

As individuals, we need to resist the allure of consumerism: “Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction” (no. 204). “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume” (no. 204).

The Holy Father is calling us to live more simply and more fully! “It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full” (no. 223).

As a nation, we need to pursue international policies that save the poor and the planet. Pope Francis calls for a “global consensus” to confront “the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries” (no. 164). In response, our nation needs to support “enforceable international agreements” and “global regulatory norms” (no. 173). The United States will have an opportunity to do just that at the Global Climate Summit in Paris in December. One thing we should put on the table is a robust financial commitment to the Green Climate Fund, a fund to help poor nations develop in sustainable, “green” ways, unlike us, and to be more resilient in the face of more frequent droughts, stronger storms and sea level rise.

When we act in these ways as individuals and a nation, we will have truly heard the cries of the poor and the earth.

Stephen M. Colecchi is Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.