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

Last of two parts

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 24 May) — Let me highlight three fresh ecological insights Laudato Si’ which try to overcome the ideology of tyrannical and misguided anthropocentrism. The first is the recognition that all creatures are brothers and sisters. To treat the Earth “like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us” (LS 1) is something new in the language of the Catholic social teaching. Despite their deep ecological concern, the predecessors of Pope Francis did not go to the extent of asserting that chipmunks and trout are our siblings. For Pope Francis, to affirm “that we ourselves are dust of the earth” is to recognize that “our very bodies are made up of her elements” (LS 2). He accepts the biological theory that “a good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings” (LS 138).  This implies that our kinship with other creatures should not be understood in a metaphorical sense, as “we have all evolved from a common ancestry in ways that are increasingly well-understood.”[1]

The other ecological insight affirms the ethical view that all creatures have intrinsic value. The predecessors of Pope Francis express this in terms of the “integrity of Creation,” which emphasizes that nonhuman creatures “have a value of their own in God’s eyes” (LS 69, 221) “independent of their usefulness” (LS 140) for human beings. Elsewhere, Pope Francis provides two reasons why “a true ‘right of the environment’ [exists:  first,] because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect [; second,] because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.”[2] It should be noted that the recognition of nature’s rights is no longer new to many ecological thinkers. Thomas Berry, for instance, categorically affirms that “each being has rights according to its mode of being.”[3] For him, every being has at least three rights:  the right to be, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfill its role in the great community of existence.

Lastly, the encyclical humbly admits that we are guilty of sin against creation. It does not simply affirm the traditional Catechism that cruelty and violence against nonhuman creatures is “contrary to human dignity.”[4]  The Filipino bishops have already advanced this teaching when they explicitly declared that “assault on creation is sinful”[5] and that the polluters and destroyers of the ecosystems are guilty of “greater sin against the integrity of creation.”[6] Laudato Si’ reaffirms that all of “these are sins” (LS 8). For John Zizioulas, these are “ecological sins” that demand forgiveness and that repentance of our sins “must be extended to cover also the damage we do to nature both as individuals and as societies.”[7] In this process of forgiveness, we also need to apply the principles of restitution and reparation of our sins in accordance with the requirements of ecological justice.

The Challenge to Feel the Urgency of the Ecological Issues

There are many indicators that ecological issues are not yet our top priority. This reminds me of Seán McDonagh, a Columban missionary in Mindanao who wrote a ground-breaking book To Care for the Earth, which was published in 1986. He recalled that it took him “two years to get it published, because nobody wanted to hear about those … issues at the time.”[8] He sadly observed that the social justice agenda “occupied the minds of ‘church activists’ to such an extent that they often downplayed or dismissed action to preserve the environment.” Accordingly, “the ‘activist’ often insisted that environmental concerns could wait until the human structures were renewed first.”[9] This was also observed by Catalino Arevalo, SJ who pointed out that the “sociopolitical scene remains the main focus of interest among those who work on immediately relevant issues” in the Philippine context.[10]

It can be shown that the promotion of ecological advocacy is a lonely ministry in the church. It has been reported that “only about 5.2% of the religious were engaged in … urgent pastoral ministries (to include Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, inter-faith dialogue and solidarity work with the Indigenous Peoples). … 81% were involved in traditional ministries, 8.7% in formation and 5.1% in administration.”[11]  It seems that the unpopularity of ecological advocacy lies on its very demanding task. “If the average citizen already experiences difficulties in working with social analysis, how much more difficult it would be for the same person to take an interest in the ecological, global relevance of planetary systems … and the origin and maintenance of the various species?”[12] My own experience confirms this.

Finally, one may notice that the theme of ecology is missing in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ list of the nine pastoral priorities, which correspond to the nine-year program of the Philippine Church to celebrate its five-hundred years of evangelization in 2021.[13] This forgetfulness seems to indicate that the Philippine Church does not yet feel the practical urgency of the ecological issues.

[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 Feehan, The Singing Heart of the World: Creation, Evolution and Faith (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2010), 55.

[2] Pope Francis, “Address of the Holy Father: Meeting with the members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization” (New York, 25 September 2015. [Emphasis mine].

[3] Thomas Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2009), 91.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church (London: Chapman, 1999), no. 2418.

[5] CBCP, “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” (January 29, 1988).

[6] PCP II 322.

[7] John Zizioulas, “Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’.”

[8] Seán McDonagh as cited in Nathan Schneider, “The Church and the World:  A Prehistory of Laudato Si’” (Jul 13 2015 ); available online: https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/church-and-world-prehistory-laudato-si [accessed July 15, 2015].

[9] Sean McDonagh, “Preface,” in Karl Gaspar, A People’s Option: To Struggle for Creation (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1990), xv-xx, xviii.

[10] Catalino Arévalo, “Filipino Theology,” in Karl Müller, Theo Sundermeir, Stephen Bevans, et al., eds. Dictionary of Mission: Theology, History, Perspectives (New York: Orbis Books, 1997), 161-67, 165.

[11] Karl Gaspar, “To Speak with All Boldness,” Hapag: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Theological Research,  vol. 8, no. 1 (2011): 19-38, 33-34.

[12] Georges De Schrijver, SJ as quoted in Edmundo Pacifico Guzman, “Creation as God’s Kaloób: Towards an Ecological Theology of Creation in the Lowland Filipino Socio-Cultural Context (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Faculty of Theology, K.U. Leuven, 1995), 216.

[13] See Jose Palma, “Live Christ, Share Christ: Looking Forward to Our Five Hundredth,” (July 23, 2012); available online: http://cbcpwebsite.com/2010s/2012/newevangelizatio.html [accessed: August 5, 2012], no page number.

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