Skip to content

Signs of the Times: Towards an ever wider “We”

by Veronica Brand, RSHMCategory: Updates

Pope Francis chose a deceptively simple but immensely challenging theme for his message for the 2021 World Day of Migrants and Refugees: Towards an ever wider “We” in order to “indicate a clear horizon for our common journey in this world” and “to ensure the proper care for our common home.” We are called to become a “we” that is ever wider and more co-responsible, “in the profound conviction that whatever good is done in our world is done for present and future generations.”

Over the last 16 months of the COVID pandemic, it became easier to “hunker down” locally than to stretch out to global concerns. The travel restrictions, lockdown and “stay home” mandates shrank our horizons of space and time. It was easy to become focused on the immediate here and now — our household, our community, our neighborhood, or our country. Even outreach service programs needed to be local. It was easy to lose that larger perspective of the common good that we were reminded of by Pope Francis on March 27, 2020, in an eerily empty St. Peter’s Square, devoid of pilgrims and tourists.

While our spatial horizon needs to be broader, our sense of time must become more acute. Recent UN scientific and climate reports remind us that our use of the shared resources of our planet today will determine the fate of present and future generations, and of all life on our planet. Scientists have been very clear in telling us that our present modes of production and consumption are unsustainable!

In many indigenous traditions, the consequences of people’s actions are measured by their impact on the seventh generation from the present. In our RSHM timeline, this is comparable to the impact that actions during the early ministry of Fr. Jean Gailhac would have on our world today. How will the decisions we make today affect the seven generations from now into the future? Are we deeply attuned to the global impact of our choices?

The common good

One foundational principle of Catholic social teaching interwoven throughout both recent encyclicals, Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, is the common good, mentioned more than 30 times in both encyclicals. If earth is our common home and we are a single family experiencing common threats to our survival, then the principle of the common good becomes a “summons to solidarity” and a preferential option for those who are poorest and most vulnerable. The shared natural resources on which all life depends — air, oceans, climate, the biodiversity of our world — are the global commons we take for granted. They are both finite and irreplaceable. We have an ethical and moral responsibility to protect and promote the common good, so that all may have life, now and into the future.

In his opening remarks to the One Planet Summit on Biodiversity in January 2021, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted that we have been abusing the planet as if we had a spare one. He deplored the growing imbalance and vulnerability in our global ecosystem and called for urgent action to address the climate crisis that human activity has caused. Declaring 2021 as the year to reconcile humanity with nature, he said “Now is the time to transform humankind’s relationship with the natural world – and with each other. And we must do so together. Solidarity is humanity. Solidarity is survival. That is the lesson of 2020.” This echoes the ecological conversion that Pope Francis called for in Laudato Si’.

There are signs of hope. The Interfaith Forest Alliance is an international multi-faith initiative that recognizes forests not as privately owned assets to be exploited for financial gain, but as carbon sinks, helping to regulate the global climate and serving as stewards of biodiversity. The Alliance aims to bring faith-based leadership and moral urgency to bear on efforts to end tropical deforestation. The newly launched Laudato Si’ Action Platform is a collaborative effort of the Vatican, an international coalition of Catholic organizations and people of good will, inviting communities to join a seven-year journey to total sustainability. Initiatives such as these invite us, as RSHM and collaborators, to new dimensions of our mission, so that all may have life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *