An intergenerational encounter: a big-bang of ideas and projects for our Common Home
By Aurora Simionato – Brussels*
The meeting dates back to May this year but the seeds of that dialogue, free of borders, prejudices and fears, continue to bear fruit. The meeting, entitled 'Two Generations, One Journey' was organized by the European Laudato si' Alliance (ELSiA) and featured high level speakers such as Amy Woolam Echeverria, International Coordinator for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and Coordinator of the Ecology Taskforce, Vatican Covid-19 Commission; as well as Monika Skadborg, the European Climate Pact Ambassador in Denmark. But the real stars of this year’s Reflection Day were, more than ever, the environmental sustainability projects and transformative practices that Pope Francis' Encyclical is inspiring in different regions of the Planet. Cinzia Verzeletti, Coordinator of ELSiA, explained how the topics discussed included travel as a journey aimed at change, and the suggestions put forth during the European Year of Youth: food waste and fast food, sustainable fashion and fast fashion, and actions to protect Creation and biodiversity. "I was able to see for myself how young people can be the real impetus behind the ecological conversion that the Pope is asking of us," commented Cinzia Verzeletti: "they represent a great opportunity for the future and also for the present. In fact, as Francis says, young people represent the future: ‘it is important that they should not let the harmful mentality of the temporary affect them, but rather that they be revolutionaries with the courage to seek strong and lasting love, in other words, to go against the current.’”
The European Laudato Si’ Alliance (ELSiA)
And courage, this "cor habeo" or in a special way, having at heart the environment and God's handiwork, is making itself felt in so many ways, especially in the desire to reverse frenzied cycles of production, consumerism, waste, excess. For his part, in the Encyclical Laudato si', Pope Francis brings out an interesting correlation: in order to grasp the urgency of the situation in which the earth and mankind find themselves, it is necessary to slow down and listen, learning to marvel at the beauty of the Common Home we share. From this need for contemplation and listening came the realization that gave rise to the annual days of discussion called 'Laudato si' Reflection Days. Soon, however, the need was felt to extend the network created around these isolated events to a more structured and lasting system of connection and exchange. Thus was born the European Laudato si' Alliance (ELSiA), a network of Catholic organizations committed to fostering the reception of Laudato si' in international contexts, with a particular focus on European Union institutions. ELSiA benefits from the active participation of several high-level partners such as Caritas Europe, COMECE, CIDSE, Don Bosco International, JESC, Justice and Peace Europe and the Laudato si' Movement. "The journey that ELSiA is experiencing," explains project coordinator Cinzia Verzeletti, "inspires us to care for the common home through three dimensions: that of ecological spirituality, that of transformative practices in the area of sustainability and, last but not least, the dimension of proposals and perspectives that we want to bring to the attention of European authorities to develop policies based on integral ecology. The stories told on the occasion of the Laudato si' Reflection Day 2022 are but a mirror of the human beauty that can be brought to bear in the pursuit of care for our Common Home.
Ecology and human dignity: the Polish On-Eko project
Paragraph 211 of Laudato si', in particular, calls for developing education in environmental responsibility through virtuous behavior. So, in Slawoborze, a village in northwestern Poland, the theme has spurred a group of young people to get involved in broadening the local community's ecological awareness and enacting transformative practices through an organization called Caritas Laudato si', a collaborative effort by 12 diocesan Caritas offices in Poland together with the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. "We are a group of young people who want to spend time together, doing something good for the environment and the local community. The idea of 'zero waste' is important to us. The point is not to throw away, but to reuse items that we no longer need," write the organizers of the project on the on-eko.com website. For the past couple of years, says Monika Czajka, volunteers have been managing the collection, donation and processing of recycled items such as clothes, accessories, toys, books and household items for display at a 'free-shop' where people can take what they need, choosing according to their preferences. "The idea is to create a fair and inclusive place," Monika explains, "free of prejudice, based on a deep respect for the individual and his or her uniqueness; in fact, those in need can choose what they like best; they are not forced to settle for what might be given to them randomly, as is often the case. The On-Eko group sees the participation of youth and adults in dialogue, within an authentic experience of giving, both material and spiritual. Some items are given to the group and become available for reuse while others are transformed by the work of volunteers to create new things such as, for example, canvas bags made from left-over fabric."
Intergenerational dialogue in the Slow Food movement
The Laudato si' Reflection Day also highlighted how working together or rather, "connecting" to one another to try to provide solutions to common problems, can become an opportunity for intergenerational exchange. There is a movement, in fact, that for years has enjoyed effective and fruitful collaboration between young people and adults: it’s called Slow Food International. This is a transversal group that works at a global level and is concerned with promoting each person's right to food and basic necessities but it also supports well-being, relationships and ethical values. Slow Food's goals immediately found common ground with the themes proposed by the encyclical on caring for the Common Home, and in the project one can find many concrete responses to Pope Francis’ call for action in Laudato si': from the direct relationship with local food production to his appeal for fair and solidarity-based policies in determining food costs. Marta Messa, head of Slow Food's European office in Brussels, explained how for the past three years, the association's focus has been to defend and promote food biodiversity, as well as to educate and inspire citizens to support better agricultural policies in the public and private sectors, which is why many recently launched Laudato si' communities have also turned to Slow Food for training with the desire to return to the land and cultivate it, without exploiting it, with fully organic techniques and methods. The encyclical on care of the Common Home also fundamentally addresses the theme of food through in-depth reflections on related social and environmental issues: from access to clean water to the problems associated with intensive fishing and farming. As Laudato si' expounds in paragraph 129, when it comes to productive diversification and business creativity, Slow Food promotes a sustainable, multi-faceted approach to food through the recovery of the traditions of different peoples in contrast to the frenetic world; we are urged instead, to slow down the pace of production. Marta Messa also highlighted the extent to which people are losing their connection to food and to the local traditions associated with it, a trend which can be countered not necessarily by going backwards, but rather by recovering the relationship between nutrition and social connections.
Summing up, Marta Messa said, “ecological change cannot happen if it is only consumers who change or if a highly resonant transformation occurs. We all need to change, starting with everyday gestures." As we’ve heard and seen in those projects to emerge from the Reflection Day, it is a transformation that began with small communities, simple actions, and with people inspired by a common desire to establish a healthy and reciprocal relationship between humans and the environment.