We too, like Pope Francis, must be zealous guardians of the Common Home
Pope Francis: zealous guardian of the Common Home
Given the patron saint who inspired his name –Saint Francis of Assisi–, Pope Francis has everything in his favor to become the great promoter of a world ecological project. It has to be him, because, as we face the threats affecting the common destiny of the Earth and the human family, sadly, we lack leaders with the authority and convincing words and deeds to awaken humanity, especially the governing elites, and the sense of collective and individual responsibility to safeguard it for all.
This wish was fully realized with the publication of the encyclical, «Laudato si’: to care for the Common Home». Pope Francis offers us a wide-ranging text of rare intellectual and spiritual beauty – of holistic ecology, uniting that which was so valuable to Saint Francis of Assisi, and is to Francis of Rome: an attitude of caring for sister and Mother Earth and a preferential love for the condemned of the Earth.
This connection runs through the entire text like a conducting cable. There is no true ecology, of any kind, be it environmental, social, mental or holistic, if it does not rescue the humiliated of humanity, the impoverished millions of our times, for whom the Earth Mother is most gravely attacked and degraded. Pope Francis appears as a zealous guardian of the Common Home. He is very much in line with the Latin American liberation Church, with its theology of the preferential option for the poor, against poverty and in favor of their liberation and social justice. The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is rectification of the structural and worldwide injustices. The best way to confront this anti-reality is a holistic ecology that reflects “both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” (n.49).
Ecology is more than mere administration of the scarce goods and services of nature. It represents a new life style, a new art of inhabiting the Common Home differently, such that all may fit in her. Not just humans, which would constitute the anthropocentrism so harshly criticized by the encyclical (nn.115-121), but all beings living and inert, especially the great community of life that is enduring a serious erosion of biodiversity, caused by the predominance of technocracy. There is another name for the principal cause of the global ecological crisis: the productive and consumerist fury. Let us speak a phrase the Pope does not use: the savage capitalism that seeks unlimited accumulation, at the price of the devastation of nature, the impoverishment of the people, and the risk of a mega socio-ecological catastrophe. This system imposes on everyone, as Pope Francis clearly says, a behavior that “appears suicidal” (n. 55).
This link between The Great Poor (the Earth) and the poor, as was seen very early by the theologians of liberation, is justified because we live in times of extreme urgency: the ecological capacity of the Earth has already been surpassed by more than the 30%. The Earth needs one and one half years to replenish what we, with our consumption, subtract during one year.
This data posits to us the question of our collective survival. We have to change if we want to avoid the abyss. Therefore, the central question the encyclical poses is: how should we relate with nature and with Mother Earth? The answer is with caring, universal fraternity, respect for every being, because each possesses intrinsic value, and with acceptance of the interrelation of all with all.
In this, Francis of Rome sought inspiration in an actual rather than a theoretical source: in Francis of Assisi. Explicitly Pope Francis says: ”I believe that Francis is the example of excellence in caring for everything that is weak, and of a holistic ecology lived with joy and authenticity,”(n.10).
All the biographers of his time (Thomas of Celano, Saint Bonaventure, quoted in the encyclical), gave testimony to “his very tender affection that nourished all creatures”; “he gave them the sweet name of brothers and sisters, whose secrets he divined, as beings that already enjoyed the freedom and the glory of the children of God”. He would free the small birds from their cages, care for all the wounded little animals and would even ask the gardeners to leave a little corner free from cultivation, so that the weeds could grow there, because they all “also announce the most beautiful Father of all beings”.
Pope Francis warns that this is not “irrational romanticism, because it has consequences for the choices that determine our behavior,” (n. 11). If we do not use the language of enchantment, fraternity and beauty in relation to the world, “our attitudes will be those of those who dominate, of the consumer, or of the very exploiter of our resources, incapable of limiting his immediate interests” (n. 11).
Here is visible another mode of being in the world, different from the one of technocratic modernity. In that mode, the human being is above all things, as the one who possesses and dominates them. Francis of Assisi’s mode-of-being is to situate one’s self next to them, to live together as brothers and sisters at home. He mystically intuited what we know now through science: that we all are carriers of the same basic genetic code; this is why we are united by a link of consanguinity that makes us relatives, cousins, brothers and sisters of each other; from this derives the importance of mutual respect and love for each other and of never using violence amongst ourselves or against any other beings, our brothers and sisters. This mode of being could open up a path for us to overcome the global ecological crisis.