This year’s Social Justice Statement is titled Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor. It provides the focus for Social Justice Sunday which we celebrate on August 29 this year. In this statement, our Australian Catholic Bishops seek to highlight the interconnection between our care of the earth and our care
for those who are poor. They draw on Pope Francis’ insight that ‘social, economic and ecological issues can only be addressed in an integral way’ (p. 3).
Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor arises from and reflects on our world as it is. There is a cry that calls us, as people of faith, to respond. This cry can be heard through the ever more severe droughts, bushfires and floods. This cry can be heard through our “interference with the delicate balance of natural ecosystems” (p. 5) leading to the coronavirus causing Covid-19 and to human-induced climate change.
“The suffering of our rivers and waterways, our groundwater, reefs, and oceans, is plain to see” (p. 7).
Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor talks of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching events, large numbers of fish dying in our rivers and lakes, the vulnerability of the Great Artesian Basin the loss of biodiversity and the millions of creatures killed by fire, drought and floods. All are expressions of this cry.
The cry of the earth is heard also through those who are most impacted by the disasters, virus spread and increasing global warming. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor tells of the experiences of First Nations peoples, Pacific Islanders, farmers, the young and all of us who are impacted by our changing environment. A real distress arises when country is in crisis. Real suffering is unfolding as many Pacific islanders are facing sea level rise and salination of their limited food gardens. Farmers struggle with their inability to plant and feed animals. Increasing heat limits the ability of children to play outside and global warming is radically changing the future choices of our young.
Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor also arises from and reflects on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’. Released just over six years ago, Laudato Si’ provides a comprehensive analysis and faith response to the social, economic and ecological cry I mention above. Since the release of this encyclical, we have had a special anniversary year of reflection on it and now the Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Human Development has set out seven Laudato Si’ goals and plans for a seven year action plan.
Key to Laudato Si’, the action plan and this year’s Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement is the need to deepen our listening skills. In order to respond to the cry of the earth and those who are the poor of the earth we need to be deliberate, active listeners. Often this requires we make an effort to be in places where we can better hear. This might be where First Nations or Pacific Islander peoples are talking about their experiences and their responsibility to care for country or island. It might be where scientists are discussing climate, biodiversity and other issues.
Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor reminds us that the:
“universe is infused with the love of God” and that the world “continues to reveal the presence of the Divine Word” (p. 10).
There is a beauty and sacramentality that we are invited to treasure and maintain. All that has been created is to be cared for because it witnesses to our Creator.
For all this to come about, our Catholic Bishops, along with Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, call us to a profound and ongoing ecological conversion.
To hear the cry, we are in need of being transformed in both “outlook and actions” (p. 10). This transformation arises from an ever deeper encounter with Jesus that is lived out in our “relationship with the world around [us]” (p. 14). Pope Francis talks of an integral ecology that includes us human beings. Conversion to deeper caring for creation includes a “community conversion” and an “economic conversion” (p. 14).
Our capitalist, consumer economy is at the heart of the problem. Pope Francis calls us to live very differently. He encourages us to live more humbly and sustainably, inspired by St Francis of Assisi and Laudato Si’.
In our Catholic tradition, conversion always needs to be ongoing. We are limited human beings who usually find it hard to change. By continuing to take reality more seriously and to better listen to the cry, we open ourselves up to the action of God. Through opening ourselves to Our Creator, we learn to better live in ways that respects, treasures and cares for God’s creation. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor helps us along this journey.
Dr David Tutty
Originally published in Horizon Magazine, September, 2021
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