By Fr. Séamus Finn O.M.I.
The 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing is an observance for all of us to consider the significance of this event and consider both the discoveries and questions that this historic achievement has occasioned. The numerous video and print commemorations that have been rolled out in recent weeks have also awakened many recollections and reflections for the more than 600 million people who are reported to have watched on TV.
One insight highlighted by even the astronauts themselves is not only that we were able to land on the moon, but that for the first time we were able to look back on our planet earth and realize, perhaps for the first time in a visible format, that we are part of a vast interdependent solar system that is responsible for the orchestration of the ebb and flow of tides and oceans, governs the cycles of light and darkness and the delicate process of photosynthesis that renews the air we breathe.
By coincidence, amid the Apollo celebrations, we also marked the fourth anniversary of the publication of the papal encyclical by Pope Francis. In the encyclical the Holy Father places “care for our common home;” “Mother Earth,” within a religious context and explores in depth themes such as interdependence, fragility, climate change and biodiversity, all themes that have been studied with increased intensity since the first lunar landing.
The encyclical goes on to highlight the urgency of the response that is needed by people across the world, and for believers, places that response squarely within their religious vocation. The document has been studied and taken up by leaders from across different religious traditions, by governments, corporations and institutions as they consider their responsibilities to address some of the most pressing social and ecological crises that we face. A good example of the extensive reach of the encyclical was a two-day conference at the UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, jointly organized by UN departments, the Vatican and other regional organizations. In her opening remarks, the Deputy Executive Director of UNEP, Joyce Msuya, expressed hope “in the young women and men around the world who are drawing on both faith and science to campaign for change and to raise awareness about how to live more sustainably.” The forthcoming Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon region in October 2019 will be a great opportunity for us all to learn about this privileged region on our planet, the threat that it is under, and the destructive exploitation that the indigenous who live there face.
Many dioceses and parish communities have established committees to coordinate responses to the encyclical at a local level. Numerous retreats, conferences and study groups have also been established to help deepen our understanding of the challenges we face and to support strategies and projects that have been created to help us all to care more responsibly for our common home. As we prepare for the fifth anniversary celebration of the encyclical in 2020, the OMI JPIC office will continue to share resources to deepen our understanding of Laudato Sí and to identify specific activities and actions that we can embrace and thereby live more sustainably.