By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Bishops of Ghana, inspired by Pope Francis’ teachings in his Encyclical on the care of our common home, have put together a 5-year Laudato sí Action Programme scheduled to run from 2022 to 2026.
The Action Programme, which will be formally launched on 24 November, is positioned to be the Ghanaian Church’s response to the Holy Father’s seven-year Laudato sí Action Platform (LSAP) which he announced at the end of the Special Anniversary Year (May 2020 – May 2021) to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Laudato sí Encyclical. Pope Francis had set up the platform, reminding everyone of the responsibility we have toward future generations, and urging the faithful to continue to take up the charge of caring for the earth in the face of the looming environmental and social crises.
This latest initiative of the Ghanaian Bishops aims to achieve seven global Laudato sí goals which center around responding to the cry of the earth; responding to the cry of the poor; ecological economics; adoption of sustainable lifestyles; ecological education; ecological spirituality, as well as community engagement and participatory action.
Involving everyone in joint efforts
Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Cape Coast is the lead promoter of the Laudato sí Action Platform for the Ghanaian Bishops’ Conference (GCBC). In an interview with Vatican News, he highlighted the 5-year programme as an opportunity to put into action and contextualize for Ghanaians, what Pope Francis teaches in his 2015 Encyclical.
The Archbishop notes that the 5-year Action Programme resonates with the objectives of the Pope's Laudato sí Action Platform: to promote among the people, “a consciousness that the earth is a gift of God to us, and we are only caretakers of what God has given us. Therefore, we are to make sure we cherish and treasure it so that we can pass it on to posterity.”
Even prior to this latest programme, the Church in Ghana had been involved in other initiatives that promote care for the earth, including the “Arbor day/week” program geared toward raising awareness in school children to take a stand for protecting the planet. More recently, in April 2021, the Ghanaian government kicked off the “Green Ghana project” through which it encouraged faith-based and civil society organizations to be involved in planting 5 million trees this year. Along the same lines, the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference came up with the idea to support the Green Ghana Project with an initiative to plant a further 1 million trees around parishes, schools, hospitals and Church institutions.
Changing the mindset of the faithful
The Laudato sí Action Programme will not be without its challenges, the Archbishop said. In particular, he points at the difficulty in creating a “change in mindset” from an attitude of exploiting wantonly the earth and its resources to managing them in a sustainable way.
To create a change in mindset, he continued, is to get people to look at the earth as something to “cultivate” - to have a religious mindset towards – in order to make it become “our home where we encounter God and our neighbor,” especially the poor and the needy. Instead of considering poverty only as a lack of food, water or shelter, the Archbishop added, “many overlook the fact that poverty also means not understanding the basic esteem that God has for of us as his children, and that we should be one another’s keepers.”
If we are going to change mindsets, he went on,” we must evangelize people to become people who have good news about nature, good news about their fellow human beings, good news about the skills, the gifts they have. And that we are caretakers, not masters of it.”
Caring for the earth and for others is rooted in tradition
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle went on to emphasize that caring for our common home, caring for our neighbors and for human and natural resources are not far separated from the ancestral spirituality of ecology of many African peoples and their traditions.
“Our ancestors have always revered the waters as habitats of the divine. They had always looked as forests not in terms of trees but as the habitat of the Spirit of God. They have always looked at mountains, rocks, the sea in terms of the divine,” he said.
However, colonialism and the manner of evangelization received, “did not understand this reverence that our ancestors had toward nature, and through that, [the reverence] they also had toward their fellow man and woman,” he said, bemoaning the loss of a heritage left behind by ancestors who managed well the gifts of creation and who made sure that “posterity has something to thank and praise God for.”
The Archbishop expressed hope that the 5-year programme will highlight that “there is no disconnect between our Christian belief and our traditional attitude or religiosity”. Rather, we may appreciate that God has made us into “a kingdom of priests for our God,” and we may grow into maturity – the full stature of Christ – “taking along with us, creation that is groaning, our fellow men and women who are suffering poverty, misery and want,” including those who are suffering from lack of “an attitude of worship and gratitude to God from creation.
Caritas in collaboration for the Laudato sí programme
Caritas, the Church’s charity organization, is set to collaborate with the Ghanaian Bishops’ Conference to realize the objectives of the 5-year Laudato sí Action Programme.
Head of Caritas Ghana, Mr. Samuel Zan Akologo, explained to Vatican News that Caritas is in the process of realigning its ongoing work in the country to the seven goals of the initiative, by translating the Action Program into an operational framework. The organization will further explore new areas to address both the social and environmental challenges it will entail.
While expressing optimism for the task ahead, Mr. Akologo highlights the importance of overcoming internal structural difficulties, to get religious congregations, lay society groups and other constituent bodies of society to work together toward a common goal. He recalls Pope Benedict XVI’s post-synodal exhortation “Africae munus” in which he urged the Bishops of Africa to harness the full energies of the Church in order to influence the political order and bring about societal change that is needed in different areas.
He expresses the hope that the process that the Bishops conference have begun through their Laudato sí Action Program will be a “strategic pastoral plan” and “an impetus to revisit an integrated, coordinated approach to working together” in line with the seventh goal of the initiative: community engagement and participatory approaches.