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Remarks by Archbishop Dermot Farrell on the occasion of the Launch of the Pastoral Letter, The Cry of the Earth – The Cry of the Poor

An Tairseach Ecology Centre, 12th October 2021

The Greatest issue facing humanity

The long-term character of what’s involved in climate change and loss of biodiversity is key to this Pastoral Letter. We must acknowledge that there is a climate crisis.  This issue, which is the major challenge confronting our planet, and is now the defining issue of this generation, will not be solved by sound bites or short-term actions. Such a deep crisis defies easy solutions. There is no magic bullet. Although scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades, there is still a long way to go to address climate change and loss of biodiversity effectively. Most people have not taken the enormity of the challenge on board. 

That said, it is not easy take the enormity of this crisis on board, as the climate crisis is not simply about climate.  It is a multi-layered crisis affecting all aspects of life: homelessness, housing, health, inequality, migration, and the economy as well as the quality of water, soil and air (Chapters 2 and 3). It is vital that we see the human face of this crisis, that is both in the immediate and long-term effect on people, and particularly impacting the most vulnerable.

The Cry of the Poor and the Cry of the Earth

The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor go hand in hand. There will be no solution to this crisis without facing up to our obligations to our sisters and brothers whom the West has left behind. The ‘inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace’ (LS, 10) is the true foundation of the way out of this crisis, which is in fact the way to life (Ch. 2). Our future—and the future of the planet—depends on our facing up to our responsibility.

Saint John Paul II, in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, warned that human beings often seem “to perceive no other significance of their natural environment, but only those that serve the purposes of immediate use and consumption” (No15).  The short-sighted philosophy, which he so clearly called out, leads to the plunder of the earth and its poorest inhabitants. “We are squeezing the goods of the planet. Squeezing them, like an orange…” is how Pope Francis names, it in his powerful image. Today, the devastating effects of climate change mean that service of our vulnerable and marginalised sisters and brothers can no longer be fragmented, failing to address the root causes and drivers of injustice.   True service must address climate change, both globally and locally. (Ch. 3).

In the encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis referring to water quality puts what is at issue before us: “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” (no 30).

Conversion and Faith

While the pastoral addresses all people of good will, it is addressed those people of faith in a particular way: it seeks to allow people’s faith to nourish and support them in turning towards a more sustainable style of life.  Turning towards another way of living merits being called a conversion, as real conversion involves not only a change of practice, but a change of heart, a transformation from within.  

Such a change of heart, such a transformation from within will only be effected by an encounter with the Lord of creation, and an encounter with Christ in each other. This cannot happen in any sustained way without meeting him in the gospels, and in the life of the Church. It is here that we discover the roots of ecological conversion. Of course, this can be expressed in different ways: some will name it as the discovery of the indwelling of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the rhythms of the natural world, in the beauty of creation and in each other that brings about conversion.  Whatever names we use, the reality and the urgent call to change remain the same.

For too long ‘faith’ has been seen—and maybe experienced—as a static given in the life of the ‘faithful.’ However, living faith is not like that. Living faith inspires and nourishes. That is why I integrated into the text a number of the psalms—the prayer of God’s people and the prayer of Jesus—as food for our prayer, as its foundation, and as a school for our prayer. Flowing out of a faith which sees creation as a witness to the love of God, and to the nature of the Creator, the psalms move us away from ideology and bring us into the Creator’s transforming embrace:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God,
and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands….
No speech, no word, no voice is heard
yet their span extends through all the earth,
their words to the utmost bounds of the world.         

The words of Psalm 19 speak to the heart; they do not shout at us, they whisper gently the truth of God’s gift. Prayer is a response to the beauty of creation and to the cry of the earth, and this crisis calls us to pray in new ways. In responding to the cry of the earth, we pray for people, for a change in ecological awareness and for justice in all its dimensions, for the cry of the poor. Without that inner life we have little hope of an enduring, balanced, life-enhancing response to what is facing us.

For Pope Francis, the destruction of our common home is something very serious, not only because God entrusted the world to human beings, but also because human life is itself a gift that must be protected from human and ecological degradation.  Any attempt to reverse the damage to our planet demands a profound change in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power that today govern societies” (LS 5). And yet we must stay in the real world. This is the great challenge: to empower change in the real world. Utopian solutions—which do nothing for the lives of ordinary people—do not point the way forward. Any way forward must be a way which includes all the people of this earth.

Young People and Climate Change

Is it just that those who contribute least to the climate crisis suffer the most from its effects, especially the poor, but also the younger generations?  In the meantime, developed economies, which are primarily responsible for climate change, pretend to ignore what is happening the Third World and refuse to take decisive measures.  In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis asks a very important question: ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ (LS, 160) This is the same question being asked of us right now by the young people of the world. (Ch. 3).

As the young people say: ‘There is no planet B.’  To underline the seriousness of what confronts us, to foster an imaginative response, and to stimulate change, the Archdiocese of Dublin initiated the Laudato Si prize. This generation of adults has a serious responsibility to hand on a habitable planet to the next generation. To that end, we must all promote the work of justice: social, climate, intergenerational, and global justice. In the words of the Swedish climate activist: “I’ve learnt that no one is too small to make a difference.”

On a personal note, I wish to express my thanks to the many dialogue partners, who both as individuals and groups, have inspired this pastoral, who have brought home the necessity and urgency, and who continue to work for justice and the integrity of creation. I wish to thank the team at Veritas for their dedication and flexibility in producing both the beautiful hard copy and its associated online version. I thank the Dominican Sisters here in an Tairseach for their enduring commitment to the care of our common—indeed our only—home.  They have backed up their words with resources, both financial and human to bring about change in our behaviour. Let us give the last word to the Lord. Psalm 90—the Responsorial in last Sunday’s Mass—ends with the following prayer. May it be ours as well.

Show forth your work to your servants;

let your glory shine on their children.

Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:

            give success to the work of our hands,

            give success to the work of our hands.

ENDS                                                   

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