By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
Five years ago, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si’, an encyclical (or letter) on the importance of caring for the earth, “our common home.” Since then, Jesuit colleges and universities have been among the institutions of higher education across the world to respond to the Pope’s message by making positive environmental changes on their campuses. This month’s issue of Connections highlights six of those schools: Creighton, Georgetown, Loyola Chicago, Loyola Maryland, Rockhurst and the University of San Francisco.
The theme for this issue was set last summer, but the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, given the impact that the coronavirus pandemic is making on our world today. In one of the more prescient sections of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes:
(140) “Although we are often not aware of it, we depend on these larger [eco] systems for our own existence. We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about. Once they become conscious of this, many people realize that we live and act on the basis of a reality which has previously been given to us, which precedes our existence and our abilities.”
Two paragraphs later, he writes:
(142) “If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life. ‘Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.’ In this sense, social ecology is necessarily institutional, and gradually extends to the whole of society, from the primary social group, the family, to the wider local, national and international communities. Within each social stratum, and between them, institutions develop to regulate human relationships. Anything which weakens those institutions has negative consequences, such as injustice, violence and loss of freedom.”
At first glance, you might read these passages and feel even more out of control than you already do in the midst of a pandemic that has altered every aspect of life. There has already been so much tension in our nation for the past two decades (dating back to the terrorist attacks of 9/11) and in some ways, the coronavirus feels like the sour icing on top of a moldy cake.
But, as we have done before, we can turn to our faith to help us during these challenging times, and look at the opportunity we have to finally make our world the place we all dream it can be. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that our time on this earth is finite and precious. We are more aware than ever of our mortality, but also of our ability to make change happen today.
Pope Francis concludes Laudato Si’ with two prayers: one for those who love the earth, and one for those who do so from a Christian perspective. In the former, he writes an intention that feels more important than ever before:
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
I hope that you enjoy reading this issue of Connections and are inspired to answer the call to care for our beloved planet Earth every day.