Justice and Peace and the Integrity of Creation and Encounter and Dialogue (JPIC-ED) of South African Province (SAP) in its entirety has been up to date in living and journeying with the Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis, Laudato Si. Most, if not all of our confreres or communities, do understand and take to heart that our Mother Earth, who contains us, does also sustain us and govern us accordingly (cf. Laudato Si’ no. 1). At the same time, she expects us to be responsible of taking care of her according to God’s command. “God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.’ God also said, ‘Look, to you I give all the seed-bearing plants everywhere on the surface of the earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this will be your food. And to all the wild animals, all the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that creep along the ground, I give all the foliage of the plants as their food … God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:28-31). Pope Francis, in his wisdom and on behalf of the Church, emerged with the Encyclical Laudato Si‘ (LS) in response to such God’s command, while looking at the signs of the times. A timely moment of publishing it when human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God himself begin to abuse the Mother Earth; hence, endanger human species and all that she inhabits.
Most of our communities in the different Sectors of our Province have embraced this Encyclical not just from a ‘sermon point of view’ but also from a ‘pragmatic point of view.’ Many of our communities are engaged in different activities to making this exhortation a reality. A good and authentic reference can be found in our last JPIC-ED report to the Provincial Council, whereby it was clearly stated that most of our Communities/Parishes are engaged in planting pine trees, eucalyptus and cyprus trees, some fruit plants as well as up-grading mission compounds ecologically to a good standard while curtailing soil erosion. All this has not been done in isolation, but rather working hand in hand with the local or Parish Justice and Peace Committees or Commissions. This explicates clearly that Missionaries of Africa are not working in isolation but rather in collaboration with the local Church. The spirit of ‘I am because we are’ is very much integrated in implementing Laudato Si! This is very encouraging, and the larger communities in which we work are very appreciative of our approach.
Laudato Si‘ is a prophetic Encyclical as conflict in the future may be mainly caused by the exploitation of natural resources. In fact, the document has become highly influential and widely shared document of the Church as it urges humanity to have an attitudinal change towards the Mother Earth. It is for this reason that LS embraces three key words namely, respect, responsibility and relationship. Respect for each other as human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God; responsibility for what is entrusted to us, human beings, by the Creator; and positive relationship between the earth and human beings, among human beings themselves as well as between human beings and their Creator. “As Christians, we are also called ‘to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet’” (LS, no. 9).
It is clear that this document as we try to implement it in our own context as Missionaries of Africa within the communities we serve, needs to be understood not as a scientific document. It is a justice document applied to the Ecology. In other words, this document, can only be appreciated and understood if engaged as a social justice document as an expression of Catholic Social Teaching in its practical sense of the word. It follows Pope Francis’ prism based on encounter, dialogue and solidarity. It is realistic and pragmatic. It envisages “A word of paradigm shifts leading to centrality of justice, empowerment from below, a dynamic interaction between deductive and inductive method, interplay between the contextual and the universal” (Peter-John Pearson, Reflection on LS, p. 1). In a sense, LS follows a katabatic approach. It is justice document as it is the constituent of the mission of the Church. It is critical not only to Church’s life, but also to all who value and care for our common home just like us Missionaries of Africa who have taken it to heart. It provokes the sense of redeploying social power and the transformation of the social system. As a justice document, it is not a paracetamol pill or a tranquilliser document as W. Brueggemann states: “Justice is not some romantic social ideal for another world. It is the hard work of redeploying social power and the transformation of the social system. Those of us who benefit from inequality in the world are susceptible to blind spots and generally we struggle to keep those spots blind. But one must conclude from Micah and the whole prophetic tradition that the redistribution of social power is a crucial element of the Gospel, and that is a summons to justice.” Justice demands not only the avoidance of unnecessary pain, but fostering care and responsibility for the other, for the ‘Mother Earth’.
Based on the Social Catholic Teaching, while reading and interpreting the signs of the times, Laudato Si expresses a deep sense of the communitarian vision. This emanates from the Trinitarian principle which begins with the sign of the cross, expressing God who is Trinity. And of course, the Trinity is relational, is love; three in one, making part of the systematic theology. Surely, LS coheres around a theologically inspired communitarian ethic. Thus, it decries “… the classical liberal model where society is understood as an artificial contract between autonomous individuals undertaken for self-interest rather than fraternal reasons” (Schuck, p. 187). Its approach, therefore, takes a wider scope compared to other documents of the Church. Pope Francis quotes not only other Popes but also other different documents as well as individuals who compliment the care of our common home. This shows that the Church is not an isolated entity. She is part and parcel of the planet entity. This fits perfectly well with Charles Cardinal Lavigerie’s principle of Community Life.
The concern of Pope Francis to bringing out LS is a provocative challenge to us Missionaries of Africa. It is a serious call or invitation to us to look at all the signs of the times and find out not only short-term solutions but also long-term solutions to our ‘Mother Earth Crisis’ such as global warming and climate change, for which the future generations of Missionaries of Africa will appreciate us, and not condemn us. This implies that individuals alone cannot do much, the communitarian aspect of it at both local and global levels (i.e., Sectors, Provinces, Society and the Church at large) have necessarily to be engaged. Care for the common home is, indeed, our business as Missionaries of Africa!
By: Fr. James Ngahy, M.Afr.