As Laudato Si’ celebrates its fifth anniversary this week, its central message in addressing issues of our common home has never been more relevant now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Celia Deane-Drummond, Director of Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall, University of Oxford, explains why by highlighting four key themes that have emerged.
A broken relationship with God, creation, and each other
Laudato Si’ reminded us that every speck of life is valued by God and not a single creature is forgotten in God’s sight. We are now living in the sixth great extinction event. This mass extinction is, unlike others in previous geological eras, the direct result of human activities. Loss of habitats by deforestation and mining programmes, particularly in the global South, supported by Western multinational companies, not only accelerate that extinction, but also threaten the livelihoods of indigenous human communities.
In Africa, for instance, the illegal harvesting of rhino horn by poachers for use as aphrodisiacs in Asia and elsewhere leaves in its wake a catalogue of cruel animal suffering. In the COVID-19 crisis this poaching has escalated. The source of COVID-19 in a market dedicated to the trading of live animal ‘products’ incorrectly thought to have sexual potency in humans reflects a distorted and disjointed relationship with other animals and each other. Instead of valuing and loving creation in the way humanity is called to do, we have failed to live up to that divine image and have become the oppressors of the natural world instead of its carers.
The most vulnerable and marginalised are forgotten
Laudato Si’ stressed the need to care for and listen to the poorest and most marginalised in our communities. COVID-19 has exposed the inequity in provision and even racial discrimination illustrated by those most affected by the disease. While the precise reasons are unclear, this global health pandemic has highlighted the injustice embedded in social structures. In other parts of the world, as in Brazil for example, indigenous communities have little or no access to health care or even basic sanitation and clean water, leading to disproportionate illness and death on a mass scale. This is a result of social and political issues of global public health provision and not merely medical questions of epidemiology. An integral approach is needed to tackle such inequities without compromising on care for creation. Conflicts of interest must be addressed and resolved rather than avoided.
The presumption that science and technology alone are sufficient
Laudato Si’ recognised the creative gift of the scientist, but also the limitations of science in solving complex problems and the risks of technology substituting for genuine human relationships. Scientists themselves are usually modest: they do not pretend that their work will be sufficient and use the language of probability rather than certainty. However, COVID-19 has revealed that political decision-making is over-reliant on statistical data, which tend to avoid facing the structural and individual changes that are also needed to contribute to lasting change. Scientific data is a vital ingredient in addressing complex problems such as climate change, but climate change itself is insufficient to effect social change. Further, the use of technologies to conduct virtual meetings during lockdown only partly satisfies our human need for communion.
The very voices that are suppressed are those we need to listen to the most
The plea of Laudato Si’ was to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Have we truly listened to those whose voices are suppressed?
Below the radar there are individuals who are supporting others through daily acts of kindness and compassion. But how far will this compassion extend? Are we still willing to care for those living in deprived areas of the global community, who have little or no support from their governments, or will we allow ourselves to succumb to indifference? Can we, even in a time of great loss and mourning, still lift our faces to see and witness the continued suffering and death of other living creatures? Are we ready to engage the ecological virtues of love, gratitude, practical wisdom, discernment, justice, temperance and hope, through times of uncertainty and beyond in a post-COVID-19 world?
COVID-19 is a symptom of our lack of health as an earth community, but it may well be the trigger that sets in motion changes that will aid us in the long-term challenges of climate change and ecological devastation.
The challenges we are facing now and will face into the future have reminded us, more than ever before, of the need for an integrated approach that seeks to give a preferential option for those who are poor and protect life in all its richness and diversity.
For a more detailed discussion on the relevance of Laudato Si' to COVID-19, you can read Celia's earlier article published in Thinking Faith. Read it here.