Laudato Si: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you”.
Last night we joined a webinar on Laudato Si. The session was heartwarming and inspiring as schools presented their programs and practices “On Care for Our Common Home”. The encyclical Laudato Si is “Pope Francis’ invitation to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” – our environment. At the core of the webinar, schools shared their best practices on how they form students to become Ecological Citizens.
It is encouraging to learn that this time when we talk about care for the earth and environment, we do not talk only of tree planting – na pagkatapos itanim at mag-photo op – it is forgotten that plants need to be nurtured. Progress on waste management practices is also evident. Schools are going beyond waste segregation into capitalizing on recycling to lower operational costs. One school even integrated a composting area as a fixture on their campus. Brilliant! They did not only monetize waste segregation; they also provided a concrete learning experience for students to see that waste management is concretely beneficial even to them. That environmental practices are not simply a fad, nor a proof of shallow compliance to regulations, some schools even incorporated environmental education into their curriculum. Hence, to these schools, I tip my hat for they structurally ensured that their students appreciate the importance of long-term orientation by educating them with care for creation-related values.
During my stay in Caleruega Philippines, our beautiful retreat house, I often encounter visitors appreciating its beautiful gardens. Garden enthusiasts often ask what our secret formula is in nurturing the plants. My answer is straightforward; we compost, and our gardeners believe in this practice. Mind you, it was not an easy journey; it took time for our community there to buy into the practice. Anyhow, once they experienced the practical and environmental benefits, the practice became second nature to them. Caleruega Philippines is a retreat center that reflects our practice of care for creation through sustainable management and activities.
How I wish that care for creation simply revolves around tree planting and waste management. We all know that this is not the case. For instance, an honest-to-goodness discourse on care for creation requires us to talk and to do something about issues on the ancestral domain. This is a volatile topic to interrogate. Another topic within this sphere is the aspiration for reduction of carbon footprints and this leads us to ask – why don’t we have a reliable mass public transportation? What happened to the long-distance trains of a not so distant past? Why does it seem to be very difficult to implement legislation on mass public transport? When you probe deeper and do investigative research, it will be inevitable to uncover the convoluted issue underpinned by power and greed, business, and politics. With these questions, it is inevitable not to interrogate these issues from a social justice perspective. Hence, walking the talk about environmental care involves a lot of courage. Some schools shared the various challenges in their environmental advocacies and community engagements. Environmental advocacy is risky and can cower us to silence. However, if we do not speak and work for our environment, who will?
For those of us who are afraid to talk about the inconvenient truth of power and greed behind environmental issues, we can take inspiration from St. Paul’s exhortation: Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. Certainly, the creator of this home is with those who care for His creation. The reality is that Earth is our only planet; we do not have planet Earth B or even a Plan B when it comes to this physical home. I remember a very beautiful quote from an Indian Chief about our relationship with mother earth; “Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves”.
While the conference was very encouraging, it was also realistic and unpretentious about the enormity of the task ahead. Specifically, serious work needs to be done in terms of policy, regulation, practices, innovation, and honest to goodness sustainable programs and activities. Just a suggestion though, in the discourse of these issues, ensure that various stakeholders are represented, and their voices heard. Be critical in deploying the notion of sustainability. Authentic sustainability discourse is integral (among others, it should realistically factor-in all the five capitals and clearly align its objectives with United Nations Sustainability Development Goals). In other words, be unequivocal in the argument that care for creation is a social justice issue and our moral responsibility.
One of the upsides of this pandemic is that the earth seems to be healing. It was reported that, for the first time in so many decades, the mountains of Sierra Madre are visible from Manila. In fact, finding proof closer to home, I observed that the birds are nesting again in the Camphor trees outside our convent. These phenomena are not only happening in our country, similar observations continue to be reported around the globe. Hence, people observe that Earth is quieter, the air is fresher, and the horizon is clearer.
These fortuitous reactions to an otherwise tragic impact of this pandemic also ask us to reflect more deeply on our relationship with Mother Earth. This reflection should include how most of us became complicit to the continuous degradation of our resources. For instance, we also need to own up to the truth that our own consumeristic tendencies contribute to mountains of waste. Nonetheless, despite our own misgivings, our reflection should not be kept in silence. At one point, we need to speak up for the earth and not just speak up; we need to do more for our home. Laudato Si continues to remind us that we are citizens of this earth, the one home that God gave us before we become citizens of heaven.
For this to happen, it will require a lot of courage, even fortitude. But then again, we have the Holy Spirit with us, the Spirit of Renewal, the Spirit that can renew the face of the earth. We are still in the season of Easter, and not too long ago, we sang the responsorial psalm Lord sent forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth.
“Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.”
Stephen Redillas, OP
*A homily delivered at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag in celebration of the 5th Anniversary of Laudato Si.