EVERYONE has a role to play in answering Pope Francis’ call to care for the Earth, says eco-theologian Fr Sean McDonagh.
That was one of the messages he had for audiences during his recent speaking tour of Australia promoting action on the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home.
“This (Laudato Si’) is not for elites, this is not for the scientists – they’re important – but this is for everyone. Everyone has a role to play,” Fr McDonagh said during his visit to Brisbane in November.
He said the Pope stressed that the encyclical was meant for everyone.
And it is not just for our own sake that we take notice but also for the sake of those to come.
Fr McDonagh said the Pope made it clear caring for “our common home” was a matter of inter-generational justice – “that we have an obligation to make sure that the world we hand on to future generations is as fruitful, as fertile and as beautiful as the one we ourselves inherited”.
He said Pope Francis, on biodiversity, made a statement no other pope had made – “that other species have intrinsic meaning apart from their usefulness for us”.
“We grew up with believing that species have value because of their instrumental value for us, so he says that’s not true and he has a whole section (in Laudato Si’) – about nine paragraphs – on biodiversity, about learning about the natural world through knowing it, becoming intimate again,” Fr McDonagh said.
“So, that means, from the point of view of Catholic spirituality, do you know your trees?, do you know your grasses?, do you know your birds?, do you know your fish around here?
“In other words, are you intimate with the natural world as God presented the natural world to us?”
The Columban missionary who hails from Ireland has an idea for implementing the call of Laudato Si’.
“I’m making a suggestion that we should have a three-year synod starting in each parish, and we’ll be looking at again of re-growing this intimacy between humans and the natural world, between it’s flora and fauna all around you, so you’d be having to educate yourself by people who know something about it,” he said.
Fr McDonagh said the community would be hearing from experts who “know the birdlife, they know the trees around here, they know your soils, they know what grows”.
“Then you’d begin to look at the ecological issues,” he said. “The three-year synod would start in the parishes – parish and dioceses first, because it’s local. All environments are local.
“You would have two goals – to re-establish an intimacy with the natural world but then you have to deal with some of the issues that are creating problems with Creation.
“One of them is climate change, and the projections are pretty poor.
“We have serious business to do to cut down our fossil fuel emissions, so your parish would begin to discuss how do we do that here.
“You’d be asked also then to look at biodiversity. How are we promoting it, or are we not? Are we creating a monoculture?
“You’d be asked to look at the use of water. Are we careful about water, or do we think that water is there anyway – we don’t take any great respect for it?
“We’d be asked to look at the oceans. We’re living on the edge of the largest ocean in the world; there’s five trillion pieces of plastic in it.
“We’d be asked to look at are we rubbish-making creatures? How do we deal with rubbish? How do we minimise rubbish?
“How do we make sure that we’re not being handed rubbish when we go to shops?
“Then you’d also be dealing with developing new prayers – that’s what (the Pope) does at the end of (Laudato Si’) – new rituals, because you’re sharing not just with humans but with all creation.
“So in that first year, you’d have the intimacy, the moral issue, the spiritual issue, and the issue of dealing with these concrete problems like climate change.
“You would repeat the thing on the national level in the second year, … so you’d be looking at other aspects of how the environment is here in Australia.”
The synod would continue for a third year, at the international level.
“One thing I must say is, if you people are going to get involved, do something – get involved with an organisation that is actually beginning to change,” Fr McDonagh said.
“And even if you don’t achieve very much, you’re in the right direction and you can actually begin to achieve more if you put more energy into it.
“But just don’t spend the time always thinking, ‘Oh, gee, we’ve had a couple of nice thoughts now about this’.
“Praxis – both theory and action – are very important.”