Encouraging Leaders to Listen to the Cries of the Poor and to Care for our Common Home

June 20, 2019 — Four years after the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si', Pope Francis seeks to encourage all actors in the institutional, economic and political worlds to “work together in a spirit of solidarity to promote concrete steps to protect our planet.” According to Father Gaël Giraud, SJ, also an economist, this is still "the only spiritual and political document that offers an eschatological horizon of the ecological journey, of the alliance with creation. At the same time, it puts forth a precise scientific analysis, with very real recommendations.” The Church and other players must act quickly to discern the best ways to protect our common home, the poor and the young.  

Consequences on the Poor and the Young  

The consequences of the lack of caring for our common home do not strike all countries and communities in the same way. In fact, the poor and future generations are the ones that are suffering and that will suffer the most dire consequences of this climate tragedy. Indeed, as the Pope says and as the current situation shows, it is the poor “that are the most vulnerable to hurricanes, droughts, floods and other extreme climate events.” This phenomenon is well illustrated by the increasing number of climate refugees. This is why we must respond strongly to the “more and more desperate cry of the Earth and its poor.”  

This is the message that Francis wishes to further, especially with large enterprises. Last week, for example, he met with executives of oil companies. Highlighting their openness to dialogue, the Pope also insisted on the fact that “for too long, we have collectively ignored the results of scientific analyses”  and that “from now on, the catastrophic forecasts can no longer be regarded with contempt and irony.”

As the most recent IPCC report highlights, we need rapid change. But how? In particular, through an energy transition that “can generate new employment opportunities, reduce inequalities and improve the quality of life of those hit hard by climate change” as well as through transparent communication regarding financial investments, which should focus on creating jobs while protecting the environment.  

This change in direction for industries and banks is necessary and vital but it is sometimes difficult to change the minds of the principal players that resist the Pope’s call and that of a majority of scientists. In the excellent interview with Fr. Girauld, he explains that “resistance is mainly felt in the banking sector. Environmental change seems very dangerous to bankers since results are still affected by the 2008 economical and financial crisis.” In fact, according to Fr. Girauld, several bankers have a very individualistic vision of the world.  

They told me: “We will do nothing, because we fought for 40 years to take control of the financial markets and we’re not going to give up everything now just because of climate change.”  So I asked them how they would have acted to guarantee a future for their children and they answered that they would have sent them to Sweden, because thanks to climate change, that’s a country where we can live.  

Banks and industries are not the only ones that must act, governments must also act. According to the economist, “politics must rediscover its duty, the necessity for a strategy that takes into account the common good and a 30-year horizon to invest in ecological conversion and a “green” reindustrialization.” The tools are known, as are the steps, but not much is being accomplished.  

However, Fr. Girauld also provided some signs of hope: the Chinese are implementing ecological policies and the Governor of the Central Bank of London, Marc Carney, “clearly stated, after the publication of the Laudato Si' Encyclical, in 2015, that the most significant risk to financial stability is precisely climate change.”  

A Call to Action: the Synod for the Amazon 

This willingness to protect our common home and to listen to the poor will also be at the heart of the Church and the next Synod which will be held in October and whose theme will be “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” The Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for this assembly, was released last Monday.  

This document highlights, on the one hand, the concerns of indigenous communities faced with deforestation and the impunity of players who take economic advantage of the Amazon. On the other hand, it presents a reflection on the idea of integral ecology, already developed in the Laudato Si', including the fact that indigenous people that have taken care of the Earth for generations have much to teach us, but also that some live in isolation due to past traumatisms. A third part invites the Church to reflect on means to become more open to cultural, social and ecological diversity in order to serve all individuals. Among other things, these reflections deal with the priestly ordination of married men or the underscoring of the role of women within the Church.  

The Universal Apostolic Preferences  

The Pope’s calls directly relate to the apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus: walking with the excluded, accompanying youth and caring for our common home. But even more so, the Pope, just like Father General, is calling for listening to, collaborating with and respecting others in the implementation of these preferences. He is also highlighting openness to different realities which the Church must be able to adapt to in order to meet the needs of all communities.  

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