Laudato Si’: generating enough energy to empower the world!

Susy Brouard is CAFOD’s Theological Advisor. Susy has twelve years experience of facilitating workshops on Catholic Social Teaching. But never has she come across a text which has produced so much energy from her participants. She explains why.

Laudato Si'- singing for joy
Parishioners in Birmingham sing, inspired by Laudato Si’

To be perfectly honest with you, Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, is a facilitator’s dream.

I say this as someone who has, during the last week, facilitated three different workshops on the encyclical. Each workshop – the first with CAFOD volunteers in Birmingham, the second at the CAFOD headquarters with staff, and the third with members of an Anglican Church in central London – filled the participants with energy and joy. In fact, the Birmingham volunteers took Pope Francis’ words of ’sing as you go’ to heart and ended their day of reflection by singing and dancing a conga in the garden!

So what is it about this encyclical that produces so much energy?  This encyclical is unique because it is addressed to every citizen of the earth. Since he wants to communicate with everybody, Pope Francis writes with great clarity and directness. He tells it as it is – the good, the bad and the ugly. It is like looking in a mirror and we realise what madness it is that as humans we are systematically destroying “our common home”.

Liberating effect

While this may be seen as depressing, it is also liberating. We are confronted with what we have done and we can decide whether to continue as we are, or make changes to the way we live and consume. In the workshops, we spent time reflecting on the symptoms of overdevelopment which Pope Francis describes in the first chapter of his encyclical; climate change, mining, water pollution and global inequality, amongst others. From our reading, we came up with key elements that we thought were essential for progress; elements such as education, love, justice, understanding, mindfulness, sacrifice and, of course, God!

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Continue reading “Laudato Si’: generating enough energy to empower the world!”

Laudato Si’: Caring for the garden of creation

This blog is written by Bernard Shaw from East Anglia diocese. He has been involved with livesimply since 2009, and more recently has been part of a small CAFOD group sharing insights on Catholic Social Teaching and the encyclical. Bernard explains how he is inspired by Laudato Si’.

Bernard with friends from East Anglia at the Speak Up For The Love Of... lobby
Bernard with friends from East Anglia diocese at the Speak Up For The Love Of… lobby

A rich tradition of caring for creation

When explaining his choice of name back in 2013, Pope Francis spoke of St Francis of Assisi as the man of poverty, peace and care for creation, a significant step “in this moment when our relationship with creation is not so good”. This left me with an expectation of development of his predecessors’ teachings in this area and now we have his most comprehensive document yet in Laudato Si’. In it, he calls for global dialogue across disciplines, including a religious contribution, to address humanity’s propensity to pollute and leave so many people living in desperate poverty. Too often economic and political decisions lack the long term vision to recognise environmental impacts. Pope Francis also corrects the notion that biblical texts justify our absolute domination over other creatures, explaining our “duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations”#67.  He outlines the Gospel of Creation and invites everyone to experience an ‘ecological conversion’.

“Creation is a magnificent book in which God speaks to us”

Bernard's parish garden provides flowers throughout the year
Bernard’s parish garden provides flowers throughout the year

One way of protecting the earth, at a personal level, is to use gardens, for those privileged to have them, in a way that encourages wildlife and minimises use of water. Back in 2011, one of our parish flower arrangers here in Cambridge had the idea of using the presbytery garden, consisting of an uneven lawn and neglected borders, for growing flowers for church decoration. It took much communal effort to rid the borders of bindweed and old tree roots.

Now the garden provides flowers for much of the year, replacing financial expenditure with human effort. Slightly encouraged by the CAFOD call to Dig Deep, an area of lawn has since been transformed into a vegetable bed, with lifting of the first potatoes eagerly anticipated.

Follow our tips for low carbon lifestyles Continue reading “Laudato Si’: Caring for the garden of creation”

A New Heaven and a New Earth: Pope Francis on Our Common Home

This blog is written by Celia Deane-Drummond, who is a member of the CAFOD Theological Reference Group, and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. She has been writing and publishing on eco-theology for the last twenty years.

“Our home looks like an immense pile of filth”

Laudato Si’ is not for the faint hearted. Pope Francis, like Liberation Theologians, is prepared to go into the mud, as it were, of our own making and dwell there for a while.

The encyclical reads like a Psalmist cry of lament peppered with examples of our own degraded earth; “Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more like an immense pile of filth” #21. This implies that creatures once capable of offering a cry of praise are now silenced.

That this degradation is of our own doing is there for all to see, but for Francis it reflects a wider cultural carelessness and indifference about building relationships with each other and with the earth; a neglect of the most vulnerable in society. He points to the violence meted out on the earth and each other in the name of false ideals of progress, understood in terms of relentless growth and consumer capitalism.

Climate change impacts vulnerable communities

And for those who wondered how far Pope Francis would take on board the climate debate, it is clear that, chemist by training, he would have no ambiguity in his mind about the validity of human sources of climate change. He is suitably nuanced in his claim, so “a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases…released mainly as a result of human activity” #23.

A model of development based on the use of fossil fuels simply will not work, and he is adamant that use of coal needs to stop. He recognises, too, that the brunt of climate change impacts are felt by those who are most vulnerable in society, leading to forced migrations and loss of livelihood.

Take action on climate change Continue reading “A New Heaven and a New Earth: Pope Francis on Our Common Home”

‘Our common home’: a challenge and an opportunity

This blog is written by Linda Jones, Head of the CAFOD Theology Programme. Linda shares her initial response to the Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.

I have to admit that sometimes reading Church documents can feel more of a duty than a joy. But reading the new encyclical, Laudato Si’: on the care of our common home is a completely different experience.

I feel full of joy and excitement. I can sense possibilities, hope and new opportunities. Pope Francis draws a stark and troubling picture of reality, but also reminds us that change is possible and that we can work together to care for creation.

The choice to care for creation, rather than exploiting the earth for our own short-term gain, will demand that humanity itself must change. We can no longer live as if our actions have no consequences, nor can we continue to put economic growth and consumption above all else. We have not taken into account the costs to ourselves as humans of prioritising economic growth over human flourishing, nor have we sufficiently considered the cost to our environment.

“The climate is a common good,” Pope Francis writes, “belonging to all and meant for all.” And yet the earth, our sister, “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

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Oscar Romero: “Aspire not to have more but to be more”

Matthew Sanderson works for CAFOD and is the Executive Assistant to the Director. In 2013 he visited Romero’s tomb in El Salvador. He will commence teacher training (history for secondary school children) in the autumn.

Matthew Sanderson on a recent trip visiting CAFOD projects in El Salvador
Matthew on a recent visit to El Salvador

I love history. Learning about people and events in the past fascinates me – What happened? Why does it happen? What can I learn from the past for my own life?

It doesn’t matter if the moment happened years or centuries ago. It’s fascinating how key figures from the past lived in cultures and experienced life in settings that I could not imagine; and yet they resonate so much with me.

This was definitely the case when I first learnt about Oscar Romero as a teenager. He may have died a decade before I was born in a country thousands of miles way but his story challenges me then and today.

Find prayers to celebrate the beatification of Blessed Oscar Romero

Romero’s Daily Reminder to Me

When I visited El Salvador in November 2013 I paid my respects at Romero’s tomb. Here I remembered the quote that I pass every day at the entrance to CAFOD: “Aspire not to have more but to be more”.

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Art and soul of Romero

Hugh Gibbons is a CAFOD volunteer from Bracknell in the Portsmouth diocese who has led several community art projects to spread the word about Blessed Oscar Romero’s life and legacy.

Hugh Gibbon in Bracknell
Hugh with one of his pieces of art in Bracknell

I think he’d smile. Art with its sleeves rolled up is how I like to think of my offbeat contribution to the tributes for Romero in an unplanned series of good-natured portraits seen by thousands of people – indoors and out. And there’s been a flow of good stories for the local press and beyond.

The starting point was a visit to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire four years ago. The Librarian Jan Graffius is also the conservator of Romero’s relics in the little museum in the Divina Providencia Hospital in San Salvador. Not bones, but telling items such as three pairs of socks, a manual typewriter, spare spectacles – and blood-stained vestments.

On Jan’s I spotted a small triptych of Romero’s life by an up-country artist. Something clicked. I’m not an artist. But painting on wood in blocks of bright Salvadoran colours seemed something I could have a go at – and many school and parish for that matter.

So I scaled up the familiar little CAFOD Memorial Cross as Romero 1.0 in our porch, to welcome all visitors.

Buy your own Romero cross

A cross for all weathers

Romero 2.0 quickly followed – but 2 metres high!  ‘Big Oscar’ was a present for St Francis of Assisi parish in South Ascot as a thank you for 50 years of CAFOD support. The cross was ‘ruggedized’ to withstand the weather in its setting on the outside of the church, so that all the passing public could enjoy and gain something from it. And there was room for Romero with trademark eyebrows and glasses.   Continue reading “Art and soul of Romero”

Oscar Romero: A preacher, shepherd and martyr

Gustavo Gutierrez is a theologian and a friend of CAFOD. He founded the Bartolomé de las Casas Institute in Peru, which is a CAFOD partner. In 2005 he gave our annual Pope Paul VI Lecture entitled ‘Remembering Romero in his XXV anniversary year’. Here, 10 years later, Gustavo shares his reflections on who Romero was and what he stood for.

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gustavo Gutierrez meeting Latin American Caritas organisations 2014. Credit: Tania Dalton/CAFOD

On 23 May, Mons. Oscar Romero will be recognised as a faithful witness (this is the meaning of the word ‘martyr’) to the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth.

This recognition will have two principal moments: the beatification when he will be declared ‘Blessed’, that is to say ‘happy’, a happiness born of the will to live out the Gospel; and the canonisation, full acceptance of his sainthood, and his definitive presentation as an example for Christians today to follow.

Find prayers and reflections to celebrate the beatification of Oscar Romero

The process of beatification and canonization of the Archbishop of San Salvador has not been easy.  The people of El Salvador and Latin America in general recognised his sainthood and service very early on; the Bishop and poet Pedro Casaldáliga was quick to proclaim him Saint Romero of the Americas, but those who felt this was not prudent resisted and delayed; they saw him as an uncomfortable person, or they did not commune with the meaning of his preaching. Continue reading “Oscar Romero: A preacher, shepherd and martyr”

Oscar Romero: The voice of the voiceless

Erasmo Valiente works with our partner Jesuit Development Service in El Salvador giving advice to farmers on how to keep crops healthy. In 2013 he visited Connect2 El Salvador parishes in England and was overwhelmed to discover that so many people in the UK have been inspired by the example of Archbishop Romero. His community in El Salvador is eagerly awaiting the beatification of Oscar Romero on 23 May when buses will take people from nearly every parish in the country to San Salvador and celebrations will be broadcast on television.

Find out more about Connect2:El Salvador

Erasmo at work in El Salvador
Erasmo training women who have started a small business making and selling coconut sweets

In El Salvador we refer to our martyr Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez as the voice of the voiceless.  We call him this because always his primary concern was to speak out for the most excluded members of society, denouncing social injustice and military repression.  His dedication to the poorest took the form of a pastoral conversion, and a spiritual commitment to lay down his life for the resurrection of our people.

His response to the death threats he received was, “If God accepts my life as sacrifice, my blood will be a seed of freedom”.  His preaching was always full of humility and peace, and constant communication with God, which gave him the strength and wisdom to speak the truth freely and with dignity in defence of human life.

Find out more Archbishop Oscar Romero

Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez knew that death was coming, but he chose not to escape the country; he stayed with his people, even after death.  “As pastor, I am obliged by divine order to give my life for those I love, that is all Salvadorans, even those who will assassinate me.  If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran People”. Continue reading “Oscar Romero: The voice of the voiceless”

Ebola crisis: we are the foot soldiers

Please pray for all those affected by the Ebola virus

Burial team 1

In her second blog from Sierra Leone, Nana Anto-Awuakye writes about a volunteer burial team on the front line of the fight against Ebola.

We leave behind the bustle of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, where the Ebola prevention posters plastered across all available wall space, and on cars and motorbikes, are now looking tattered and faded.

The landscape changes from precarious half-built houses perched on the hillsides surrounding the city, to lush green savannah grasslands.

We are heading to Kambia in the north-east of the country, a district that became a hotspot as the Ebola epidemic gripped the country last year. Sandwiched between the urban district of Port Loko to the south and the border with Guinea – where the virus started – to the north, the odds seem stacked against this unassuming town.

But an amazing partnership has developed here between the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health, local volunteers – including teachers, students and farmers – and CAFOD, to form the Safe and Dignified Burial team of Kambia. Together they have refused to be overwhelmed by the odds stacked against them.

Burial volunteers

On a piece of land the size of two football pitches is an important part of the operation – the Kambia Ebola Response Fleet site, managed by CAFOD and its local partner Caritas Makeni. Continue reading “Ebola crisis: we are the foot soldiers”

Listening to the cry of the earth

Today on International Mother Earth Day, Rachel McCarthy from the CAFOD Theology Programme reflects on listening to creation. This is the third of a series of blogs ahead of Pope Francis’ encyclical on human development and ecology, expected to be published this summer.

Flowers in Nicaragua
A blossom of flowers in Nicaragua

“The cry of the poor and the cry of the earth are one.”

(Canadian Bishops Conference, 2003)

We are called to open our hearts and hear what creation is saying to us.

But what does it mean to truly listen to our sisters and brothers across the world, and to the earth?

Listening to God’s creation 

The call to listen to creation is grounded in our belief that all of the earth reflects God’s glory.

Scripture reveals the inherent goodness of creation as made by God. Jesus talked to his disciples about the natural beauty of

the flowers in the fields, and said, “Not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-30).

All living beings are made by God, and we have a deep connection with the whole of creation. Indeed, God establishes an everlasting covenant with all creatures on earth (Genesis 9:16).

Humankind, as created in the image of God, is simultaneously interconnected with all creatures and is given a special role to care for creation.

Inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron Saint of ecology, we remember that we are all members of the eco-family. We are called to praise the Creator God together with our ‘Brother Sun’ and ‘Sisters moon and stars’.

Contemplate the beauty of creation with our reflections

Continue reading “Listening to the cry of the earth”