After reading and discussing Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, leaders from our congregation drafted a letter to Pope Francis, which is printed below. We invite you, in turn, to read Laudato Si’ and to share your responses with your own faith community, friends, and neighbors.
May 29, 2016
His Holiness, Pope Francis Apostolic Palace 00120 Vatican City
Dear Pope Francis,
We write to you on behalf of our congregation, Peace Lutheran Church of Seattle, Washington, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In response to your bold Encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, we chose to form a group with a neighboring congregation that met for six consecutive weeks over soup and bread for conversation. Around twelve people met on average each week, and we included an invitation to members from other Christian congregations in the area to discuss your letter. To us, this encyclical represents a shift in tone and substance, and we want to acknowledge this exciting conversation, and with clear voice answer back YES, we hear your call.
You wrote that 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 that things can change. To this, we say YES.
You appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. To this we say YES.
Thank you for inviting this conversation. We would like to affirm the following from the letter:
The current path of human development is overwhelmingly marked by pollution, water scarcity, throwaway culture, deforestation, and dependence on oil which disproportionally affects the poor. Most alarmingly, the vicious cycle of increasing carbon in the atmosphere, where if current trends continue, we will soon be witness to unprecedented destruction of ecosystem with grave implications: social, economic, political, representing the challenge facing humanity, with the worst impact affecting developing countries.
We agree that we currently lack the culture and leadership needed to confront this crisis, and that there is a lack of awareness of how decisions by developed countries affect those in developing countries; their problems are brought up as an afterthought, while there is an “ecological debt” and leadership needed from the more developed regions. And that it is foreseeable that once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims. To this path, we passionately say NO.
Once we start to think of the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently. We realize the Earth is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. And, now, we are at a cultural ‘tipping point’ of awareness.
“The earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.”
The ecological movement has made significant advances, but it is now time for enforceable international agreements and global regulatory norms. We hear your call for a bold cultural revolution that looks past the technological paradigm; for a non-consumerism model of life, recreation, and community. To this, we say YES.
Rather than prescribing solutions, you have called for honest debate to be encouraged among the experts, while recognizing we are reaching a breaking point, and the world system is unsustainable. To this conversation we say YES. We agree that it is time for meetings which include scientists, activists, business leaders, politicians, and faith community leaders to find common ground and consensus in order to move forward wherever possible. It is time to move past market forces and work together, for “realities are more important that ideas”.
We appreciated your references and quotes from Christian mystics including Saint Therese of Lisieux and Saint John of the Cross, and for your discussion of a way forward paved with a path of spirituality, as their intimate experiences with the world shines a light to each of us on more intimate ways to exists in the world . Also, we appreciated how you spoke of cherishing each thing and each moment, and of Jesus’ invitation to us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, demonstrating being present to everyone and everything.
You wrote that it is time for a new start, our common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning, including new consumer habits, ecological sensitivity. An integral ecology is needed where nature cannot be regarded as something separate from our selves. Again, we say YES, YES, and YES.
Over the past six years our congregation has taken the concerns you express in your Letter to heart. We have taken strong steps to shape our mission in ways that honor and reflect the values of Earth care, from the liturgy of our worship life to practical measures such as building lifesaving rafts for the Harbor Seal pups that grace the waters of the nearby Salish Sea, to the installation of raingardens on our property that help prevent sewage run-off into the Puget Sound. As a member of Earth Ministry, an ecumenical non-profit organization based in Seattle, our congregation has seized the opportunity to join hands with neighboring parishes of other denominations in various initiatives. And last month, at the invitation of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish here in West Seattle, we joined hands on a project of restoring a local watershed by removing invasive plant species, thus increasing the health of the local creek and the conditions for juvenile salmon. As we like to say: we do GOD’S WORK with OUR HANDS.
Our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Social Statement “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice” (1993) states: “Humans, in service to God, have special roles on behalf of the whole of creation. Made in the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for the earth.” It goes on to affirm so many of the insights you have raised in your Encyclical.
Despite current differences in theology and politics, there is no excuse for waiting to cooperate. These environmental and social crises we face need immediate and frank discussion, cooperation, and action. Let this now be a rock on which we can stand together as brothers and sisters in order to level the playing field between rich and poor, embrace the best scientific research, and work toward a cultural change of consciousness which can lead to renewed care for our common home.
In celebration of your call to action as outlined in Laudato Si’, we are honoring you with the planting of a tree on our church grounds in Seattle on June 5th, 2016, when we will celebrate the first of four Sunday liturgies focused on God’s foundational gifts of creation: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
With gratitude and in solidarity, we are,
Your Brothers and Sisters in Christ