Francis Stewart from CAFOD’s Theology team reflects on our interconnectedness in light of the coronavirus pandemic, his experiences in Myanmar, and the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.
I feel as if the coronavirus crisis has, in a particularly stark way, highlighted our interconnectedness with others. Every time we wash our hands, we confront this as an unpleasant reality, a source of worry. And yet, to be able to wash our hands with soap and running water depends on a network of connections and services.
A journey to Myanmar
In August 2019 I travelled to Myanmar to assist a colleague who is accompanying partner organisations in their work. We were there to share with them the path CAFOD seeks to walk in the wake of Laudato Si’, and to invite them to be one of the front-runners in a more ecological approach.
I listened carefully as representatives from our eight partner organisations shared updates on the challenges of their context. I was struck that many here already have an instinct for an integrated approach. They have varied projects, working to educate young people about sustainable waste management, for example, at the same time as running a social enterprise. Or they might be facilitating interfaith dialogues to build peace, and monitoring ceasefire agreements.
My experience here was that “integral ecology” is “already there” as a way of working and thinking, but, in some senses, it is quashed or not given sufficient recognition. It made me wonder how CAFOD can water these seeds and tend them so that they are not choked or uprooted in the confusion of the conflict that afflicts this magnificent part of the world.
Through my experience on this visit I was also drawn to another sense in which “ecology” is something already with us.
The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor
A colleague from one of our partner organisations – SEM (Spirit in Education Movement) – shared with me an example of where the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are linked in Myanmar.
At the meeting, we reflected on this story as a warning: we don’t have to wait for the floods and typhoons to observe the link between environmental damage and the harm to people and communities.
Ecological catastrophe is not an imminent, oncoming tide, but something in full swing, already happening. Ecology is not something ‘out there’ which we step into when we have a walk in a forest, it’s something we are already within, simply in relating to others and to the world around us.
Seeing God in the most vulnerable
Since then, this calling has been sharpened by the outcomes of the Amazon Synod – the special gathering of Amazonian bishops in October 2019. Now we find ourselves in lockdown in the midst of a pandemic.
I have felt a greater awareness, this Lent and Easter, of “going into the tomb” with Jesus. I have been thinking of the keyworkers, the ones who do as he did – washing feet – as, in a sense tending to Jesus himself: wiping his face, tending to his grave, waiting and hoping on his resurrection.
Are we not, at this time, compelled even more to see God in the poorest and most vulnerable? And are we not invited even more urgently to live simply? We find ourselves between the overwhelming wonder of Creation and the painful cries of so many of its creatures – and here, in this space, God calls us to act.
CAFOD is asking the Prime Minister to ensure that the most vulnerable people are the priority in the UK’s international efforts to tackle coronavirus as well as at home.