At a recent meeting, the Pope’s latest Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ on the ‘care of our common home’ was being discussed by a group. A senior and well-intentioned member suddenly suggested that in the context of the Encyclical, we should encourage the children in our schools to plant trees. Some certainly applauded the suggestion; others retorted “we have been doing so for the last several years” and at least one rather strongly said that “the Pope’s Encyclical is not about tree-planting!”
Tree-planting as such is not such a bad idea at all; one can learn plenty: sensitivity to nature and how to nurture a tender sapling from the very beginning. So when one talks about the Pope’s Encyclical and about tree-planting in the same breath, one is surely going to warm the cockles of the heart of many across the board: of the rich and the famous; of the powerful and other vested interests; of Governments and those in authority; of those who plunder and destroy this earth because of their rapacious greed and selfishness. “Wow”, they would say, “the Pope in ‘Laudato Si’ is speaking about tree-planting; we have nothing to fear!” After all, one cannot deny that some of the most luscious gardens, well-manicured lawns and even personal forests belong to these very groups that are responsible for global warming, climate change and for profiteering after ruining the fragile eco-systems, which belong to all of us.
The truth is that relegating or equating the Pope’s Encyclical to tree-planting is very unfortunate: either one does not have the courage to read the Encyclical nor the openness to be able to accept what the Pope is saying very directly and unequivocally.
In the opening chapter of the Encyclical, the Pope invites every single citizen to listen to the groaning of creation; “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. The chapter deals with several “aspects of the present ecological crisis”: pollution, waste and the throw-away culture; climate as a common good; displacement and migration caused by environmental degradation; access to safe drinking water as a basic and universal human right; loss of bio-diversity; decline in the quality of human life and break-down of society; global inequality. He has also denounced pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, declaring “the spread of these crops destroys the complex web of eco-systems, decreases diversity in production and affects the present and the future of regional economies”; well, bio-tech companies across the world will surely not be happy with this statement!
‘Laudato Si’ focuses on human rights violations and injustices. Pope Francis does not mince words when he says “injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”
‘Laudato Si’ is indeed path-breaking, radical in nature and which touches every single dimension of our human existence. The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, to change directions so that we can truly care for our common home; he challenges all “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” To rubbish this timely and important message or to relegate it to tree-planting would certainly be a great disservice not to the Pope but to Planet Earth!
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)