(Source: Leonardo Boff, Franciscan ecotheologian; translation: Novena)
In times of great crisis, natural disasters and now, with the pandemic of the new coronavirus, human beings are letting what is essential for them come to the fore: solidarity, cooperation and care for others.
We are living through a dramatic moment in human history. For the first time, a virus has attacked the entire planet Earth. It is decimating thousands of lives, affecting everyone indiscriminately – but especially the most vulnerable on the outskirts of cities, who cannot adequately ensure social confinement nor avoid crowds, given the set-up of homes, which are real shanties.
This pandemic is more than a crisis. It is a call to change our relationship with nature and with Mother Earth, that is, to seek a new beginning, a new paradigm that allows us to remain alive in the Common Home and to carry forward our process of civilisation.
We are living an ecological emergency. On August 22, 2020, Earth Overshoot Day took place. This means that humans have consumed the ecosystem’s goods and services and other vital non-renewable supplies. The Earth went into the red. If we continue with our consumerism, we will violently extract what Mother Earth can no longer give us. Then she responds with more global warming, with extreme weather episodes, with less fertile soils, with less drinking water and with a range of viruses that never stop attacking humans and putting their lives at risk.
Invited by the UN, scientists have studied nine Planetary Boundaries that in no way should be crossed (among them, climate change, scarcity of drinking water, soil degradation, erosion of biodiversity, alteration of nitrogen, among others), since they would cause a collapse of our civilisation. As everything is interconnected, the breakdown of one boundary can cause the breakdown of others and therefore throw us into the worst possible situation.
Laudato si’ warned us: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes” (no. 161).
It is urgent that we avoid such catastrophes, but more than anything else, that we refound, with new values and principles, our existence on Earth, our Mother who gives us everything we need to live.
Based on this common mission, a collaboration has been established between two religious families with long traditions of care for creation, life, the most dispossessed and Mother Earth – the Franciscans and the Jesuits – through the Interfranciscan Service of Justice, Peace and Ecology of the Conference of the Franciscan Family of Brazil; the Luciano Mendes de Almeida Observatory of the Network for the Promotion of Social and Environmental Justice of the Jesuit Province of Brazil, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement. The MAGIS program and the Jesuit School of Philosophy and Theology (FAJE) are also partners.
The values of each of these two traditions can inspire us to new ways of caring for the sacred heritage that evolution and God have given us: the Earth, the Magna Mater of the ancients, the Pachamama of the Andes, and the Gaia of the moderns. Laudato Si’ calls us to “a global ecological conversion” and, no less than 35 times, demands from us “new lifestyles”.
In his encyclical on integral ecology, Pope Francis presents St. Francis as “the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians” (no. 10).
The Pope goes on: “His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists… Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there” (no. 11-12).
St. Ignatius of Loyola was a great devotee of St. Francis, especially of his poverty. For both Francis and Ignatius, being poor meant more than an ascetic exercise; it was a stripping away of everything to be closer to others and to build up fraternity with them. To be poor in order to be more of a brother and sister.
For the first companions of St. Ignatius, life in poverty, both individual and communitarian, always accompanied care of the poor, an essential part of the Jesuit charism. And St. Francis lived these three passions: Christ crucified, the poorest of the poor, and nature. He called all creatures, even the fierce wolf of Gubbio, with the sweet name of brothers and sisters.
Both glimpsed God in all things. As St. Ignatius beautifully expressed it: “Find God in all things and see that all things come from above”. And he said more, in line with the spirit of St. Francis: “It is not so much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but rather the intimate feeling and savouring of things. You can only fully savour all things if you truly love them and feel united to them”.
Such forms of life and relationship are fundamental if we want to reinvent an amiable, reverent and care-filled way with the Earth and Nature. From this will be born a biocentric civilisation, based on interdependence among all, solidarity, cooperation and care for all that exists and lives, especially the most vulnerable, in universal fraternity.
COVID-19 is a sign that Mother Earth has sent us to take on the mission that the Creator has entrusted to us to “protect and care for the Garden of Eden”, that is, Mother Earth (Gen 2:15). If these two orders, Franciscans and Jesuits, along with others, carry out this sacred charge, we will demonstrate that not all of the earthly Paradise is lost.
It is growing within us and expanding into other spaces, finally making of Mother Earth the true and only Common Home in which we can live together in justice, peace and the joyful celebration of life.
The two spiritual traditions, now united in the defence and promotion of life and of Mother Earth, can take the first steps towards this necessary transformation towards a new tender and fraternal relationship with all humans and especially with devastated nature and suffering Mother Earth.
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