[For Pakighinabi, Manila Times, June 15, 2015]
I cannot say that I have completed my study of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home” (LS). But sharing some preliminary reflections on this remarkable document may already be worthwhile, if only to invite my readers themselves to delve into the richness – and challenge – of this document.
Confronting the major socio-ecological problems of the world – pollution and climate change, the diminishing supply of fresh drinking water, the loss of biodiversity, global inequality, and the decline in the quality of human life – Francis rejects resignation and defeatism. “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home,” Francis insists. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know things can change” (LS, 13).
Our common home? “Home” itself may already be a concept which increasingly escapes the experience of many. “A house is not a home,” the song goes. But what is home today when the culture of family life has become so generally amorphous, when breadwinners live abroad, and children grow up with grandparents or aunts or godparents? What is home when the conversation between parents and children is incessantly interrupted by the stressful demands of work and school, and communication in a world of social media more compelling than exchange that might occur between mother and son, father and daughter? What is home when the gap between generations is widened daily by addictive games on the Internet, silly entertainment on TV, and the perplexing things that the children bring home from school? The home that was the joy of the shared meal cooked by a mother or the treasured space of warmth and family to which one returns after a hard day’s work has been largely sacrificed to new ways of doing things: being husband and wife on Skype, sitting around a table where celfons are more compelling than the twinkle in one’s father’s eye, the worry in the tone of one’s son’s words, or the excitement in a daughter’s story of her day. Already on this level, where what is “mine” may be more important than what is “ours,” and “going out” may be more life-giving than “being home,” there may be a need to “bring the family together … to protect our common home.” When we talk about our common home, what is it today that we protect? And how do we protect what we no longer seem to have in common?
What happens then when we stretch this concept “home” beyond the walls of our house and into the borderless expanses of the globe? Are we not confronted by a perplexing world that is somehow “ours” because media makes us part of it, but mostly not ours because we can’t do anything about it? This includes, in recent news, a beleaguered Greece flailing to assert itself against the tortuous disciplines of the gods of European finance ironically through a democratic vote; sectarian combatants of a religion of peace gunning down innocent worshippers of another sect of the same religion of peace in a sacred mosque in Kuwait; a jihadist’s Kalashnikov gunning down innocent vacationers in Tunisia; a white man shooting nine black people in a South Carolina church followed by the burning of six African American churches; 500 hapless revelers engulfed in “hellfire” after colored powder accidentally ignites in Taiwan’s Fun Coast water park, China bullying its way into the West Philippine Sea, and some 38 killed after a ferry carrying close to 200 passengers capsizes off Ormoc. This “home” is horrifying for have nots and perhaps even more for those who just have less, or just have not enough; it is alienating for those who believe that worship of the one almighty God “on the straight path” brings peace; it is unsafe for revelers and travelers. How much is this earth our common home, and what is it in it that we are called to protect?
Much needs to be said about environmental destruction in Mindanao and in Palawan, but perhaps Manileños – and the rest of the nation as well – may reflect on the quality of their environment and their ”home.” There was a time when traveling from Ateneo to Avenida Rizal simply to watch a movie was no big deal, when riding up the broad Taft Avenue was scenic, when between Rizal Theatre and the Intercontinental in Makati there was wide open space, and coming up Highway 54 there were broad fields that one could look on to with carabao still wallowing in mud. Free space, meanwhile, has been turned into private space, precious park space even in the environmentally sensitive Ayala development of Makati has been turned into building space, single story buildings into imposing skyscrapers, sunny thoroughfares demeaned into the dark underbellies of dysfunctional transit systems and skyways, green space into pathetic “green walls” of plants that wither in the poisonous pollution of the city. The rationality of the city has been coopted by the irrationality of our transportation vehicles, which hardly move, despite widened avenues and multilayered skyways, because regulating the infinite number of vehicles on the finite supply of streets is considered economically irrational. The nation – and not only Manileños – must take note because it is the taxpayer’s money that funds this madness.
Pope Francis says: “we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighborhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature” (44).
What have we done to our common home? Perhaps it is indeed time to pause from what Francis describes as the “rapidification” of our ways to consider the state of our home and the quality of our living.