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Area Day – Laudate Deum

by Bea McMahon, RSHMCategory: Updates

sisters seated theater-style in our media room looking towards front as they listen to presenter

Central to the program for the Eastern American Area gathering on December 9 was a video of the October 12, 2023, Georgetown University Public Dialogue “Caring for the Environment and Each Other: Pope Francis’ Follow-up to Laudato Si’.” The video presented an urgent conversation among five exceptional leaders discussing the renewed challenges and new questions posed by the pope’s follow-up exhortation, Laudate Deum (Praise God)which contains the pope’s strongest language on climate change. The panel’s dialogue reached more than 2,000 people in-person and online.

Christiana Zenner, associate professor of theology at Fordham University in New York, called the document “a challenge of the heart,” noting sobering passages such as the following: “We must move beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial changes. We know that at this pace in just a few years we will surpass the maximum recommended limit in worldwide temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius and shortly thereafter even reach 3 degrees Celsius with a high risk of arriving at a critical point.”

None of this surprised Sharon Lavigne, who leads Rise St. James, a faith-based environmental justice group in the Louisiana region known as “Cancer Alley” from the effects of industrial pollution.

On the panel, Ms. Lavigne drove home the real effects of pollution. Her neighbors eventually realized they were being poisoned by a massive Formosa Plastics plant.

Her area’s elected officials, she said, feel beholden only to industry. “We will not be able to breathe. We will not be able to live. This is genocide,” she said.

Lavigne, the 2022 Laetare Medal recipient from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said of the corporate polluters, “We are being sacrificed so they can make a profit.”

John Mundell, director of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, acknowledged both the emotion and urgency expressed in the new document. “Pope Francis is challenging us to live a more authentic faith life.”

“In the eight years since the pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home, “we’ve not seen significant progress,” said Jose Aguto, executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, a nonprofit group based in Washington, DC. “So he wants us to step into this work [using] a lot of courage.”

Aguto observed that the exhortation is aimed particularly at Americans when it states, “If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long- term impact.”

His concluding statement underlines the centrality of Pope Francis’ challenge: “The document makes it clear that caring for the environment is integral to our faith.”

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