One evening recently, I was walking on the town side of the River Moy. I looked across at the Cathedral and then my eye followed the Moy until I noticed the trees around the house in which I live. I suddenly realized that the grounds of that house, rather than the Cathedral, were the proper setting in which to launch the Pope’s Letter, Laudato Si. When I looked at the launch in Belmullet, I realised that the grounds of the Parish House, rather than the Church was also the most appropriate place in which to launch the Pope’s Letter. Because his letter is all about the world of nature, God’s creation, and the damage done to it by us, God’s creatures. It is addressed, as the Pope says, ‘to everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concerns and affects us all’. In short, it is addressed to believers and to non-believers; in fact to everyone who lives on this Earth, the home we share in common rather than simply confined to those who worship in the Cathedral or in any other Church.
The Earth, ‘Our Common Home’ as Pope Francis calls it. That means, we are all in this world together; you and I, the people of Ireland and the people of Ethiopia, the people who believe in God and those who do not, the children, who like the young people present, have lots of blessings in life and the children in the poorest slums who have very little or nothing. We share this world with the world of nature and we depend on the world of nature to do so much for us; clean our air, water our crops and provide us with the sunshine we need for things to grow. Whether we like it or not, none of us can live without each other and without the world of nature which God has created and given to us to care.
Unfortunately, our care of our common home has fallen on evil days. Ever since the Industrial Revolution we have developed a whole way of life which had damaged God’s creation. Our desire for foreign travel has enlarged the hole in our ozone. Our dependence on fossil fuels has changed our climate. Our throw away culture has used up much of the world’s resources and sent into landfill waste which will be lodged in this Earth for hundreds of years to come. In a real sense we have raided an ordered, elegant home, thrown the furniture around and left the place in a real mess. The world which our children and their children will inhabit, therefore, will not be the world which we received from our parents and grandparents.
But all is not lost. Pope Francis, in Laudato Si, sums this up when he says: “ Our Sister, Mother Earth, now 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. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” The Pope then goes on to say: “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. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
Conscious of the fact that, as the Pope says, ‘things can change’ this diocese began a series of information evenings and a program of education in the Primary schools, culminating in the Ceremony of Confirmation, where we encouraged everyone, especially young people, to do something to redress the damage done; in short to be a link in the chain for change in our time. In fact, all the young people who received the Sacrament of Confirmation this year, inscribed what they would do on a piece of paper and thus made a link in the chain for change created in their school and offered to God during the ceremony of Confirmation. ‘Yes, we can’ was the slogan that elected Barack Obama to office in the United States eight years ago. This same spirit of confidence urges us in this diocese to be a link in the chain for change in our time.
You may well say I am only an individual and have little influence. True and not true. Each individual can link with another individual to do something small which will then have a large influence. Take the example of two young Dublin girls, who in 2012, decided to do something about all the food wasted in supermarkets and sent into landfill. They came up with the idea of asking the supermarkets to donate this to those in need. They did and the result now is that the poor are fed and less food ends up in landfill.
Can I do something about climate change and the growth of material in landfill? ‘Yes, you can’. Buy only what you use. Freeze what is leftover. Reduce household waste. Use your refuse bin less. Reject the ‘throwaway culture’. Stand back from the rat race and discover stillness in your life.
This evening’s launch of the Pope’s Letter is celebrated, therefore, in the world of nature, with space for stillness and space for hospitality. As you walk around these grounds and then into the grounds of the Karen Community and the Community Garden itself, you will see all that is best in that world; Brenda with wild flowers, Peter the Beekeeper, the Community Garden itself with all who work there and all that grows there, the hospitality which surrounds the Pizza Oven and the barbeque, the Space for Stillness, which Ann and Fran have made and the Chain for Change which Aishling and Geraldine have. In all of this I hope you enjoy the world of nature and the hospitality which surrounds it in this place.
Some years ago I drove through the Rieti valley in Italy and I sat in the place where St Francis of Assisi wrote his ‘Canticle of Creation’. The setting was wonderful but no more wonderful than in many places in our country or own county. It moved Francis to pray and to write:
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation and especially for our Brother Sun, who brings us the day and the light; he is strong and shines magnificently. O Lord, we think of you when we look at him. Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and for the stars which you have set shining and lovely in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Earth, our Mother, who nourishes us and sustains us, bringing forth fruits and vegetables of many kinds and flowers of many colours.
This evening we gather, surrounded by flowers of many colours, by fruits and vegetables, by the Earth which nourishes and sustains us, by every kind of weather, by the glorious world of nature and by the sea, God’s creation. And in this setting, we, in this diocese, launch Laudato Si, the Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis “On care of our Common Home”. In so doing we promise to help bring about the change of heart which Pope Francis calls for in this Letter. We begin, or renew, our efforts to end the present trend to destroy our world by the way we live. I invite each of you to make your way to Geraldine and Ashling at some stage to make your link in the Chain for Change so that the Chain for Change in the Diocese of Killala is the longest, strongest in our country. Thank you.