Between Laudato Si’ and Black Lives Matter

Pollution comes in many forms.

Pollution comes in many forms.

Laudato Si’. Praise be.

In his new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis draws a connection between praising the God of creation and recognizing our duty to care for each other by caring for the planet, “our common home.” But the core of Francis’s message is even more challenging. He argues that praising the God of creation includes being willing to challenge and transform systems, institutions, and our own patterns of comfort and consumption that fail to respect our duty to care for the planet and for each other. “Human life is itself a gift,” he says, “which must be defended from various forms of debasement.” (5) Quoting Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, he writes, “As Christians, we are called ‘to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale.’” (9)

Pope Francis laments the breakdown of society that is connected to environmental degradation.

The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression…and the loss of identity…Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion. (46)

All lives matter, we are reminded, and we have a special responsibility to make sure the lives of the poor are protected from the consumption of the rich, for the poor are disproportionately affected by climate change. “We have to heed the cry of the earth as well as the cry of the poor.”

Laudato Si’. Praise be.

But on the morning when we wake up hoping to celebrate the voice of the Church calling the world to action on climate change, we woke up at the same time reeling at the horror of yet another mass shooting, this time at a black church by a white gunman. Nine people massacred in their own church by a white man only 21 years old. Early reports allege that as he opened fire he declared, “You rape our women. You have to go.” Another tragedy of gun violence. Another racist incident against Black Americans. In the last year we have witnessed the rupture of social bonds too many times. Against Pope Francis’s call to recover our bonds of mutual care, Black lives cry out to be protected from exclusion and recognized as possessing the dignity given by God.

Laudato Si’. Praise be. Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter.

In light of the encyclical, what will we do in America to examine our own care for life and creation? Will we look at the ways we fail to protect life from the debasement of racism? Will we challenge ourselves to see the world as a sacrament of communion, and division and competition? Pope Francis reminds us that All Lives Matter, which we already knew. But more than that, he reminds us that the present state of the world and our society doesn’t reflect that reality, and asks us whether we’re willing to make a change. Will we do the hard work that it takes to transform our institutions and our society, and recover our necessary sense of “universal fraternity?”

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. (229)

Laudato Si’.

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Pollution image courtesy Flickr user Billy Wilson, and is found here.

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