“Everything is connected”: reading Laudato Si’ in unprecedented times

16 May 20

Laudato Si’ week 2020 marks five years since the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on Care for our Common Home. To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the encyclical, Caritas Australia spoke with Head of Mission, Sister Jo Brady, to learn about the significance of the encyclical and its relevance today.

For those who might not be familiar with Laudato Si’, how would you describe the encyclical?

Laudato Si’ is a papal encyclical which makes a significant contribution to environmental dialogue by providing a systematic religious view. We are called to solidarity with the poor as well as stewardship of the earth. Our deep regard for the dignity of every person commands us to create a climate of life where all of creation thrives.

We have a responsibility to care for the earth because this has a huge impact on the way in which we live. The most vulnerable in the world are impacted by how we do, or do not assume our stewardship correctly.

The Pope speaks of the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor and the developing world. Where we in the developed world have been responsible, largely, for the environmental damage through exploiting natural resources for our own economic advantage. This is important because it is the wealthy nations who have a responsibility to address the issue of climate change, because it is the poor and vulnerable are those who are most impacted and they have the least financial resources to deal with the impacts.

At one point in the encyclical the pope says that: “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all” (23). How do you think this idea is related to Caritas Australia’s work?

Climate is a common good and is therefore the responsibility of us all. Such an approach benefits us all—the totality of creation—that’s plants, animals and humankind.

For Caritas this means that we work with our partners, we listen to them and advocate for them or provide the means whereby they can advocate on their own behalf. We don’t come in and impose what we think they need to do or so, but we work in collaboration with them. They directly suffer from the rising sea level, displacement for traditional lands because of deforestation or loss of traditional livelihoods because of the impact of pollution.

In terms of Caritas working in solidarity with partners across the world we strive to improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable by assisting them to develop livelihoods that are sustainable and are environmentally sustainable as well. At this particular time in the pandemic, our programs have pivoted to concentrate on the importance of sanitation and hygiene to combat COVID-19, as well as education programs.

What part of Laudato Si’ feels most relevant to you these days?

Looking at the theme of “everything is connected” means that we are not separate from creation but we are integral to it. Laudato Si’ it is a reminder to me of our covenant relationship to care for the earth, to have compassion and be active caretakers and stewards of the environment. I like this quote from the encyclical: “an integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence of violence, exploitation and selfishness” (230).

How do you think people can put the teachings of Laudato Si’ into action during these unprecedented times?

I think in simple ways, by responding with respect and recognising the dignity of all forms of life. To use only what we require and to be mindful of others through complying with the restrictions out of care and respect for others’ health and safety. To take time to really see the environment with new eyes and be aware of our impact on the environment. Above all, at this time, to be aware of the plight of the poor and vulnerable with regard to COVID-19.

Caritas Australia has developed nature-based activities for the whole family, which encourage a shared sense of awe and contemplation about nature, available here.

For those who would like to learn more about Laudato Si’, Catholic Earthcare is holding online reflections, prayers, an eco-retreat, and much more. Details available here.

Jessica Stone is Advocacy Officer at Caritas Australia.