REFLECTIONS: Laudato Si’ Week Celebration and the Urgency to Care for Our Common Home (1)

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1st of two parts

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 23 May) — The Laudato Si’ Week Celebration (May 16-24) does not only encourage us to heed the urgent call of Pope Francis to care for the Earth but also reminds us of our unjust negligence of the ecological concerns for several centuries.

The Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas recalls that “In the traditional manuals of theology, there is hardly any place for ecology.”[1] The study of American theologian Elizabeth Johnson confirms that “for the last five hundred years, the religious value of the earth has not been a subject of theology, preaching, or religious education.”[2] Historically, the interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and ecology emerged only around 1980s. In fact, today’s ecological awareness is almost absent in the Vatican II documents, which give more focus on church and world issues.

Morning dew. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Given this theological lacuna, it is understandable that many of our older priests—particularly those who had finished their theological formation before 1990 —would respond to the ecological issues based on the traditional manuals of theology. It is imperative to update our theology with the best ecological insights offered by the Earth sciences. With the advent of Laudato Si’, it would be inexcusable for a Catholic to remain ecologically illiterate.

Deforestation as the Mother of Other Ecological Issues

The forest, being a focal ecosystem, is a good case to analyze the complex and interrelated issues of the ecological crisis. Let us pay attention to the alarming facts relative to unsustainable deforestation. It has been claimed that 10,000 years ago, the estimated global forest cover was seven billion hectares or about 45 percent of the earth’s land area. As of 2005, however, the total remaining forest area worldwide has declined to 3.8 billion hectares, “which is approximately 30 percent of the global land area.”[3] This is reflected locally in the Philippines where the original 15.8 million hectares (or 53 percent of the country’s total land area) of its forestland has been reduced to 7.168 million hectares (or 24.27 percent). This unsustainable deforestation has bad ecological effects on the healthy functioning of other natural ecosystems. It causes crisis of fresh water and leads to land degradation, siltation of many rivers, and other soil-related ecological disasters. It also deprives the diverse wildlife species of their habitat and niche. In fact, deforestation is “the world’s second largest climate change contributor,”[4] as trees also serve the planet by sequestering and absorbing the abnormal measure of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

When trees are gone, other ecological problems occur. “Once the big commercial loggers have chopped down the commercial viable trees, they abandon the area. But they leave logging roads that … serve as ‘the arteries of forest destruction.’ … Poor shifting agriculturalists ‘will only penetrate into areas that loggers have opened up because of the roads.’”[5] The unsustainable logging had prepared the scene for large-scale monoculture agribusiness. With the present logging moratorium in the country,[6] big companies easily shifted to mining activities. Both extractive approaches proved to be extremely damaging both to nature and the people.

Mountains destroyed by mining operations loom large from a mining company’s base camp in Surigao del Sur. Mindanao has become the country’s hotspot for murders of land and environmental defenders, accounting for 67% of the total killed in the Philippines in 2017 (48 deaths) and a third in 2018, Global Witness pointed out. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

In Mindanao, the “fifteen biggest mining operations … cover up to 131,775 hectares of land, which are situated on or near Lumad communities.”[7] This largely explains why mining activities in Mindanao are also issues of peace and Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) persecution. This unrest has been used to justify the heavy militarization in Mindanao. Sadly, those who “protect the forest and reject mining activities” have become the common victims of violence and oppression.[8] This alarming situation has pushed the church to urgently appeal to the military and the paramilitary groups to leave the persecuted Lumad communities.[9]

Pope Francis’ Holistic Ecological Vision

The Holy Father has chosen the name “Francis” because Francis of Assisi “is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”[10] Pope Francis reminds us of our vocation as “‘protectors’ of creation … of one another and of the environment.”[11] His use of ecological mediation has allowed him to highlight the recurring theme of the encyclical Laudato Si’ (LS) that “Everything is related” (LS 92, 142). This encyclical creatively appropriates the framework Integral Ecology which takes “into account every aspect of the global crisis” (LS 137), including the natural environment, economy, society, culture, and daily life. As a holistic ecology, it also includes the common good and the issue of justice between generations (LS 139-159).

Earth Rise, as photographed by the Apollo 8 crew on 24 December 1968. Photo credit: NASA

Laudato Si’ is holistic as it treats the issues of poverty and the ecological crisis together. It assumes that “every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective” (LS 93). It asserts that our option for the poor must include an option for the Earth, since the “the earth herself is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (LS 2). Our option for the Earth must also include the “preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (LS 158) at they are “the most vulnerable people on the planet” (LS 48), “whose ability to defend their interests … is limited” (LS 186). The poorest creatures can be seen in the suffering faces of our indigenous peoples who are forced “to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects” (LS 146).

TOMORROW: Some Fresh Ecological Insights from Laudato Si’

[Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He is the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro where he also teaches fundamental/systematic theology and Catholic social teaching. He is the author of Poverty and Ecology at the Crossroads: An Ecological Theology of Liberation in the Philippine Context (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2015). His ecological advocacy includes planting/growing Philippine native trees, mountain climbing, and defending the rights of indigenous peoples.] 

 

 

[1] John Zizioulas, “Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’: A Comment,” (June 18, 2015); available from http://www.news.va/en/news/metropolitan-john-zizioulas-laudato-si-give-orthod [accessed June 21, 2015].

[2] Elizabeth Johnson, “Losing and Finding Creation in the Christian Tradition,” in Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans, eds. Dieter Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Cambridge: Harvard University and Center for the Study of World Religions, 1999), 3-21, 4.

[3] Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Global Forest Land-use Change 1990 to 2005, FAO Forestry Paper 169 (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of United nations, 2012), 16; available from http://www.fao.org/docrep/017/i3110e/i3110e.pdf [accessed June 21, 2015].

[4] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (Valencia, Spain: IPCC, 2007), 37.

[5] Robin Broad and John Cavanagh, Plundering Paradise: The Struggle for the Environment in the Philippines (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 46.

[6] On February 1, 2011, President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 23, “Declaring a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting in the natural and residual forests and creating the anti-illegal logging task force.”

[7]Ibon Resources, “Fifteen Biggest Mining Operations in Mindanao” (October 26, 2015); available from: http://www.ibon.org/includes/resources/Picture%202.png [accessed June 25, 2015].

[8] Diocese of Tandag, Pastoral Statement on the Plight of our Indigenous People of Surigao del Sur, September 8, 2015.

[9] See Paterno Esmaquel II, “Cardinal Tagle to military: Leave the Lumad in peace,” Rapler (November 11, 2015); available in http://www.rappler.com/nation/112429-cardinal-tagle-military-lumad-mindanao [accessed January 15, 2016].

[10] Pope Francis, “Address of the Holy Father Pope Francis to the Representatives of Communications Media” (March 16, 2013).

[11] Pope Francis, “Homily of Pope Francis: Mass for the inauguration of the Pontificate” (March 19, 2013).

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