Four years after the release of “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, much has been done on a global scale to affect changes in the way we care for the earth.
But much remains to be done. A recent assessment from the United Nations shows that humans are altering nature at a rate that is “unprecedented in human history.” As many as one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. Biodiversity loss is expected to accelerate in the next several decades.
In this week’s issue, a story about a pair of cyclones that hit Mozambique — leaving at least 40 people dead out of the more than 240,000 affected — cited rising sea levels in the long, narrow country, which scientists attributed to climate change. Many of those who lived along the sea will no longer be able to return. Many working in the fishing industry have lost their livelihoods.
Pope Francis wrote in “Laudato Si’” that we must examine our lifestyles and habits, no matter how small, and make changes. People are fooling themselves, he wrote, if they think “things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time.” It’s as if they’re giving themselves permission to carry on with their current lifestyles and habits. That attitude is “self-destructive,” he wrote.
Small steps when combined can make a big difference. Highlighted in this week’s issue are the efforts of parishioners at Our Lady of the Holy Cross in the Baden neighborhood of north St. Louis, who planted a community fruit orchard. It’s the latest outdoor project at the parish, which also has a native prairie restoration to renew pollinator habitat in the area, as well as a pollinator garden that attracts butterflies.
Pastor Father Vince Nyman said his hope is that the orchard will be something that will benefit the whole community. What Pope Francis had in mind with his encyclical is “getting back to the land and make a correlation between loving the land and loving the suffering,” Father Nyman said.
Pope Francis noted in “Laudato Si’” that being concerned about the environment is not just to satisfy a curiosity, but “to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
There are many small actions we can take, such as installing solar panels or using more efficient lighting, appliances and vehicles. Other ideas include taking public transportation or carpooling, walking or riding a bike rather than driving, recycling and composting, using washable food containers at home, school and work, and planting trees or small gardens.
Many local community organizations, such as Gateway Greening and Brightside St. Louis, are leading the charge in education, advocacy and action. Parishes and religious communities, including the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, also have leadership roles in educating others about the care for our earth.
If you have not made changes, now is the time. Mastery of God’s material creation is part of our human dignity (Catechism of the Catholic Church 377).