By Francesca Merlo
Five years ago, Pope Francis published his Encyclical Laudato sí, "On Care for our Common Home’" According to Yeb Saño, one of the founders of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM). The GCCM is a network of organisations that aims to motivate the embrace of this Encyclical’s message, even “beyond the Catholic Church”. That means, Saño says, “being more mindful of caring for creation and understanding the realities we face”. Those realities, he continues, are that “our earth is crying”, and that the earth’s cry is no different than “the cry of the poor”.
The earth and its poor
Saño explains that we cannot talk about protecting the environment whilst we are neglecting “the needs of the Earth’s most vulnerable people”.
Laudato sí is a social encyclical, says Yeb Saño. It encourages us to look at the environmental crisis as an issue of justice and one for which we need to join forces and “protect the future of the earth”. More importantly, he added, we need to make sure that we “safeguard the interests of the poorest of our brethren”.
Yeb Saño believes that the environmental crisis is rooted in three human characteristics, all of which are “closely connected with who we are”. All of these three words, he says, “start with the letter A”.
The first word is arrogance. Arrogance is the belief that you're better than God or better than nature, that we’re smarter than nature - and that has caused a lot of havoc in the world.
The second word is apathy. Apathy is the dangerous belief that it’s somebody else’s job to care, it’s somebody else's job to take care of others or take care of the environment.
And the third one is avarice, which is extreme greed. Greed has made this world a much, much worse place to live in. Greed is what drives, for example, corporations to only think about profits and not the people and the planet.
These are three words that “we as Catholics strive to stand up against”, three forms of a lack of love: “the love that Pope Francis reminds us to embrace as a commandment from God and as an example from the life of Jesus”, says Yeb Saño.
Love, or rather the absence of love, for creation and for God, according to Yeb Saño, is what has “driven us away from our own selves”.
It has alienated us from each other and it has alienated us from nature.
If only we cared enough to combat these three things, says Yeb Saño, we would go far in ensuring that we are winning the fight against the environmental crisis.
A spiritual conversion
But this crisis is not just an environmental one, he continues. “As both Pope Francis and Pope Saint John Paul II have articulated so eloquently”, the crisis is a spiritual one, too. He said that an aspect of the GCCM is encouraging everyone to pursue ecological conversion and to find meaning in caring for each other and for creation, knowing that the transformation needs to be a “spiritual” one.
On top of that, he continues, we know that we must focus on our lifestyles, pursuing ones that are friendlier towards one another; lifestyles that “show love for the planet”.
“So that’s an exhortation for us to live simple lives”, being mindful of others. System change goes hand in hand with mindfulness, says Yeb Saño. The GCCM does a lot of work with parishes, dioceses, religious orders, universities, young people and many others, “including the policy-making and decision-making institutions both inside the Church and in the secular world” to create change, “to create real policy change and transformative change”.
“I'd like to believe these things that we do could give guidance and wisdom for all Catholics and all people of Goodwill”, he says.
The battle of here and now
Many people now see the ecological crisis as the climate crisis, “because the climate crisis is one of the most pervasive manifestations of the ecological crisis”. The battle against it, “will not be won or lost in Chambers of Commerce” or “in plenary Halls of the UN, or in parliaments around the world”, even though there is a huge amount of work to be done in those venues. This is a battle that “will be won or lost at the grassroots”.
It's the people who will suffer if we don't win this battle. It’s the people’s lives and livelihoods that are at stake, and right now this is a crisis that’s affecting millions, perhaps billions, of people already. This is not a crisis that is in the distant future, it is here and now, and therefore we need to work doubly hard, and work together, stand together, as a human family, to confront this crisis.
This crisis needs to be a uniting factor for all faith communities and for political leaders, concludes Yeb Saño. “This is the moment that I feel can be the uniting factor for humanity, we must not lose that opportunity”.