Keynote Address: How Laudato si’ Moves Interreligious Dialogue Forward
His Eminence Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ
Conference on Interreligious Response to Laudato si’
Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
29 October 2020
It gives me great joy to join you all in this virtual Conference on How Laudato si’ Moves Interreligious Dialogue Forward, organized by the Georgetown University to mark the fifth anniversary of Laudato si’, the much celebrated Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis.
My sincere appreciation to the University’s Management for this initiative which is among the many events and projects across the globe to celebrate the immense good that the document has done to the world over the last five years and to encourage multiplying of efforts for converting them into ‘a peoples’ movement’ for the protection and care of the earth, our Common Home. The COVID-19 pandemic which has paralysed the world for more than seven-eight months now, I am sure all of you would agree, has only hastened the urgency of attending to this dire need. The year from 24 May 2020 to 24 May 2021, as you would know, has been declared as “Special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year” by the Vatican. I am happy that this event is taking place during this Special Anniversary Year and particularly so within a few days after the release of ‘Fratelli Tutti’, the latest encyclical letter of Pope Francis. The source of inspiration for both ‘Laudato Si’ and ‘Fratelli Tutti, as the Holy Father acknowledges, is one and the same person and that is St. Francis of Assisi, who “felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh” (Fratelli Tutti (FT), no. 2). It is only inevitable therefore that there is a connecting thread between the two encyclicals. Some commentators have pointed out, which I presume you are aware of, that ‘Laudato Si’ taught us that everything is connected whereas ‘Fratelli Tutti’ teaches us that everyone is connected as brothers and sisters and as such “we need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home” (FT, 17). There is thus an inseparable link between the two encyclicals; both are complimentary to each other. Our reflections on ‘Laudato Si’ here on cannot but be in close reference to ‘Fratelli Tutti’. May all our efforts-individual and collective, during this year and in the years to come, therefore, be geared to creating universal consciousness duly supported by concrete actions on the ground for the protection and well-being of our planet and of one another.
All of us, irrespective of whichever religion we profess, have a moral and religious responsibility to shape an ethic of care for the earth, which is our shared home. A common commitment to creation by people of different religious traditions can offer us real hope for the future of life on earth. As believers with shared humanity and with shared values and convictions for the protection, preservation and development of our mother earth, we, Christians and people of other religious traditions, as well as people of good will, need to work together in a familial spirit to make the earth, truly our home.
Religious leaders, in particular, are called upon, as the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi on 4th February 2019 says, to rediscover and spread “the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence”. There is a need today, more than ever, for a continued dialogue on environment, culture and religion in order to overcome the crises of the modern world which are the fallout of a “…major political crises, situations of injustice and lack of equitable distribution of natural resources – which only a rich minority benefit from, to the detriment of the majority of the peoples of the earth – have generated, and continue to generate, vast numbers of poor, infirm and deceased persons. This leads to catastrophic crises that various countries have fallen victim to despite their natural resources and the resourcefulness of young people which characterize these nations. In the face of such crises that result in the deaths of millions of children – wasted away from poverty and hunger – there is an unacceptable silence”.
- The role of Religions, Religious Leaders and Religious Communities in protecting Environment
It is needless to say that religions and cultures play a paramount role in nurturing respect for Creation and in safeguarding the legitimate diversity and the value systems as resources for harmony with one another and harmony with nature. It is very important to ensure that in the march towards sustainable development, no one is left behind and that each and every one is part of this developmental process.
The leaders of religious communities likewise play a vital role in shaping attitudes, opinions and behaviours among their followers for the judicious management and equitable use of the natural resources and for the sustainable development of all. Religious practice with its cultural expression is both an enabler and a driver of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
When respectful relationships are built among peoples, sustainable management of the resources can reinforce and enhance national and global action on climate change, as well as contribute significantly to conservation, sustainable use and the equitable sharing of benefits arising from biodiversity.
Moreover, religious communities do and can make a significant contribution to addressing the issues of climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem loss, pollution, deforestation, desertification and unsustainable land and water use and other urgent issues.
Many of you will agree, I am sure, that the ecological crisis and the safeguard of the environment in respect to people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership are central to all faiths and that they are all inseparably interlinked to one another.
- Laudato si’ and interreligious relations
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis underlines the urgency and importance of dialogue with all religions for the care of our common home (cf. LS 7, 14, 63, 64, 111, 216, 222), arguing that the ecological crisis is basically a spiritual problem and thus interreligious dialogue is fundamental to solving it.
Environmental degradation thus becomes and should become an interreligious concern. Religions possess much wisdom to help us bring about the needed changes in our lifestyle in order to overcome the encroaching deterioration of conditions of our planet. There is the urgent need then for all of us, believers of different religious traditions, to promote an ecologically responsible social order based on shared values, joining hands with others.
As the document on Human Fraternity notes: “…we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”(no. 92).
The interconnection and interdependence between human beings and nature invite everyone to go beyond any differences of class, creed, race or culture, so as to collaborate, as one human family, in protecting the integrity of our home, now and for future generations. Faced as we are with the looming environmental threat, Pope Francis emphasizes that religion can help us to take the first step towards collective change. LS explains it this way: “Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. Respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality. If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.” (LS, 63)
Many religious people today share the idea that the environmental crisis at base is human-caused and choose to leave it at that. It is time for them to re-think about how they consider the crisis. According to Pope Francis, the ecological crisis is ultimately linked to a crisis of values, a spiritual void that pervades the society of our times. There is the need therefore to offer alternative models based on values and spiritual paths to arrest the crisis. While this should be the case, there must also be an on-going dialogue among the different fields of knowledge, including science, “in the service of a more integral and integrating vision” (LS, 141) and for the common good (cfr. LS, 201). In this connection it is pertinent to remember what Pope Benedict XVI said regarding the misconception about the relation between religion and science. He said and I quote, “there is no “opposition between faith and science”, instead, “there is friendship between science and faith” and that scientists, “through their vocation to the study of nature…can take an authentic and fascinating path of holiness” (General Audience, 24 March, 2010).
One of the most essential and effective models has been ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. I would like to focus on the latter. The good news is that concern for environmental degradation is now an ecumenical and interreligious reality. With the discovery and recovery of an ecological ethic along with a shared sense of responsibility towards the earth, various religions have entered into an “ecological phase”. The adherents of these religions have formulated their own religious perspectives of ecological concerns. For example, The Time to Act is Now: A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change (May 14, 2015); Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders (October 29, 2015); Islamic Declaration on Climate Change (August 18 2015); Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, (November 23 2015).
The manner in which we treated “mother earth”, in the past has done much damage; therefore it is time to change our behavior. Pope Francis proposes an “integral ecology”, which goes beyond environmental ecology and embraces all areas – environmental, economic, social, cultural and that of daily life (§§ 147-148).
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, for its part, has highlighted the importance and contribution of interreligious dialogue in combatting the ecological crisis through its messages of greetings it sends annually on the occasion of the most important feasts of other major religions; It has also organized many Conferences to reflect upon the pressing ecological crisis and on ways in which dialogue and cooperation can help in mitigating it.
Here is some food for thought for all, arising from ‘Laudato in respect to interreligious dialogue:
- There is an urgent need for followers of all religions to go beyond their borders to unite in building an ecologically responsible social order based on shared values. The Covid-19 pandemic beckons us to do the same;
- The ever worsening of global environmental situation demands an accelerated and augmented interreligious cooperation, in solidarity with all concerned, so as to reduce at least, if not to completely eradicate the environmental problems;
- In order to take care of the health and sustainability of the planet, there is the need to create shared educational programs to raise ecological awareness and to promote common initiatives through full involvement of all as we live and work side by side;
- There needs to be a conscious effort to recover awareness of the link between humanity and nature, including referring to the teachings of the sacred texts of one’s own religion, and trying to live by them in daily life;
- Also, movement towards a prophetic, contemplative and sober lifestyle by all should be part of the larger solution offered;
- A common commitment by the faithful of all religions for the good of the planet, together with a change of attitudes and lifestyles at personal and community levels is the need of the hour.
No doubt, Laudato si’ has made a great impact on society from an interreligious perspective: It has:
·Created greater awareness among people of different religious traditions about climate change, expanded, deepened and accelerated the on-going dialogue on climate-change and climate justice. It has brought about positive changes in the lives of people, at an individual level, regarding respect for and protection of nature.
·Caused increased understanding of how everything in the world- human beings and the nature- is interconnected (nos. 117, 138). Any crisis-social or ecological, therefore, cannot be understood and treated in isolation; to be able to overcome the crisis, one needs to listen to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.
·Through its call for integral development and integral ecology, it brought ‘inclusivism’ into greater focus.
·It generated hundreds, if not thousands, of interreligious initiatives and projects all over the world to enhance awareness among the people about the urgent need of doing something together and in concrete to save the Mother Earth.
·It also made people to fall back to the teachings of their own respective religious traditions to understand better how the relationships between God, human beings and nature are inter-wined.
·The interreligious conversations on the encyclical and the activities prompted by the document also gave the opportunity of knowing the perspectives of other religions on the subject.
·Inspired by the messages of the encyclical, as has been mentioned above, organizations belonging to other religious traditions brought out their own versions of declarations on ‘care for nature’.
Four out of six chapters in Laudato Si’, are dedicated to integral ecology. It is a new paradigm of justice starting with the understanding of ecology “which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings” (n.15).
In his reflection on integral ecology, Pope Francis points out, not only the interconnectedness of all things, but also “the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the honesty needed to question certain models of development, production and consumption” (n. 138). He calls for an integrated approach to the complex crisis saying: “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139).
To understand this, human beings have to recognize first the close relationship between human life and moral law. “Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good” (156), but is to be understood in a concrete way. In today’s context, in which, “injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable”, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on “a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (158).
As part of God’s creation, human beings are interrelated with and inter-dependent on one another and with all other creatures and have the unique responsibility of safeguarding and enhancing the created world which is God’s gift to all creatures.
Responsible stewardship of creation or caring for earth entails, first of all, appreciation of the goodness, beauty and functionality of God’s creation; secondly, intelligent management of natural resources God has given, taking all diligent care to preserve and protect them and also to find ways to make the earth flourish; thirdly, consciousness that the whole world is a family and that humans and all other living beings and the rest of the material world is an inter-connected and inter-dependent web of life, fourthly, nurturing of relationship and harmony between humans and nature and among humans themselves.
Interreligious and intercultural dialogue can certainly play a monumental role in bringing about the spirit of solidarity among all and towards a fruitful collaboration between different religious traditions for building a global partnership towards addressing the crucial challenges of our era.
Greater attention surely needs to be paid towards issues of education, peace-building, preserving and promoting of traditional knowledge, rights of indigenous peoples, sustainability and economics, etc.
For this, I suggest four main areas of involvement in and intervention by followers of different religious traditions:
- Promoting mutual knowledge and understanding of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity;
- Building a pluralist framework for commonly shared values;
- Disseminating principles and tools of intercultural dialogue through quality education and the media;
- Fostering dialogue for sustainable development in all its ethical, cultural, environmental and social dimensions.
Stronger partnerships are to be forged to bind the religious, cultural and secular communities for a collective and concerted effort towards finding lasting solutions to environmental issues and to fostering of sustainable development.
Urgent and decisive action by the international community is required to arrest the increasing environmental degradation, and related challenges of social and economic unsustainability.
- Laudato Si’, Covid-19 Pandemic and Pope Francis
Laudato Si’ was in a way, a prophetic document that predicted of a looming crisis (social, climatic etc.) on the horizon of the earth if corrective measures to arrest the malaise affecting the health of nature are not taken urgently. None perhaps expected that the prophecy will come to pass any time soon and the result is that we were caught off guard when the catastrophe struck.
·We have been witness, directly or indirectly, to the devastating impact of the pandemic on humanity. While thousands and thousands of lives have been lost and livelihoods of millions destroyed, the pandemic brought to fore the scandalous inequality, discrimination and indifference on the basis of creed and race existing in the society.
·The worst affected due to the pandemic and the subsequent lock-downs to contain the spread of the virus naturally have been the poor, the migrants and the most vulnerable of the society.
·The overwhelming sense of helplessness and vulnerability in front of the crisis caused by the ‘invisible enemy’, however has made us realize that no matter whosoever and whatsoever we are, all of us are equal before the Corona virus (it doesn’t see religion, race, class etc.).
·The pandemic has also made us recognize how inter-connected with and inter-dependent we are on one another and with creation: “…human beings are deeply connected with all of creation. When we mistreat nature, we also mistreat human beings. At the same time each creature has its own intrinsic value that must be respected. Let us hear ‘both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ and do our best to ensure an appropriate and timely response’”. (Pope Francis, First Message for World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, 1 Sept. 2016).
·The health-crisis and the consequent lock-downs have surely altered our way of thinking and our way of living as never before. The disastrous effects of the pandemic and our own confinements in homes during the lock-down periods have perhaps led us to self-introspection guided by our respective faiths and have helped us become perhaps less individualistic, less consumerist and less self-centered!
·Most importantly, the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought about human solidarity as never seen before in the recent known human history to serve the afflicted and the affected and to labor hard to seek for a solution to the problem. The generous and self-less outreach and service by individuals and groups and the unprecedented interreligious solidarity seen in favor of those afflicted and affected by Covid-19, were in many ways, signs of hope and positivity amidst the doom and gloom prevalent due to suffering and death caused by the virus.
·In this situation, we, believers and particularly so religious leaders, through our exemplary faith-translated-into action lives, are required to inject in and spread the “Contagion of hope” (Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi Message, 12 April, 2020) among the masses. This hope must spring from our belief that the loving God who creates, sustains and ultimately redeems all of creation “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more” (Rev. 21:4). Moreover, we need to become “sowers of hope” (Pope Francis, Address to the Editorial Board of the Weekly ‘Tertio’ (Belgium), 18 Sept. 2020) among the people for a better tomorrow.
·Pope Francis’ profound gestures and pronouncements of spiritual closeness to all those who are suffering due to Covid-19 as well as to all the frontline warriors of the pandemic, his stirring message of hope and his appeal to the whole world to reach out to the needy and the suffering and to help and serve them in this time of global crisis, is a great motivator for all, most specially for the suffering humanity. The extraordinary Moment of Prayer on 27 March, 2020 and his endorsement of the Global Day of Fasting, Prayers and Good deeds for the good of all humanity on 14 May 2020, an initiative of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity are among the most notable moments when the Holy Father united himself with all the suffering and appealed to everyone to pray for and do charity for the suffering.
- Post-Covid-19 period from an interreligious collaboration point of view
‘Laudato Si’ decried our broken relationships with God, with neighbors and with the earth (cfr. LS, 66). It called for repairing and restoring of those relationships and underlined the need for harmony with one another and with nature. The present crisis is an opportunity and a grace to restore those relationships and to forge a new way of living as a true world community based on fraternal love, equality, justice, harmony and peace.
The re-realization of our shared humanity, shared destiny and shared responsibility for one another and for the world (cfr. LS. 229) must spur us on to further build on the robust interreligious solidarity existent at the moment for the welfare of human family not just during the pandemic period but beyond. It must impel us to conscientiously work towards eliminating inequalities, healing the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family (cfr. Pope Francis, Twitter Message, 23 April, 2020). The ‘wisdom’ found in our respective religions can help us move forward to reclaim a sense of responsibility for the common good and for our common home.
Covid-19 pandemic, therefore, is a wake-up call for all of us for:
·Re-assessing of our relationships with one another and with nature
·Re-examining of our lifestyles, behaviors individually and collectively
·Re-introspecting of how we have contributed to the neglect and destruction of the environment and how we have denied or have been indifferent to the rights and just needs of others, particularly the poor and the most vulnerable of the society
·Re-viewing of how much our contribution has been towards the protection and restoration of nature and of the fundamental rights of our fellow beings.
Only by radically re-shaping our relationship with God, with our neighbors and with the natural world can we hope to effectively tackle the threats we face today. In this respect, the call of ‘Laudato Si’ for social and ecological conversion for “the protection of nature” and “the defense of the poor” becomes more pertinent and urgent than ever. This conversion must result in:
·An increased sense of respect for life, human dignity and nature;
·An enhanced reaching out to the poor, the needy and the afflicted. As individuals, families and communities, we need to become more conscious of the needs of others, of other communities and of future generations;
·Multiplying of collective and consolidated efforts towards eliminating inequality and injustice in the society;
·Bringing about of more credible changes in our way of thinking, the way of looking at others, our behavior and lifestyles;
·And adopting and promoting of more environment friendly practices in our homes, in the neighborhoods and communities.
As the Holy Father said, the Covid-19 pandemic has made us ‘more aware of the importance of care for our common home’. May this increased awareness lead us in this Special Year of the Anniversary, to generously cooperate with one another “… as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvement and talents (LS, 14)!
It is hoped that enhanced interreligious relations and collaboration will provide new opportunities and strength for the betterment of humanity today as well as for all future generations.
The covid-19 pandemic has taught us how fragile and weak we all are; it has also taught us how much we need each other and how much we are dependent on one another. This is a more than enough reason for us to be united and committed not just to ward off forever the coronavirus from the horizons of the earth but also to work together for the betterment of humanity.
We, believers of different religious traditions are called upon in a special way to promote unity, solidarity and brotherhood among the people so that all are able to unitedly and courageously face the current challenges as well as those of the immediate future. It is my hope that we will emerge from the present crisis better and stronger and help our societies to become more humane where people care for one another and care for creation.
Thanks for your kind attention.