(RNS) — The phrase “love thy neighbor” profoundly yet simply captures a call to see our shared humanity with a call to action. It requires us to ask: Who is my neighbor? Where does the line for “your neighbor” begin and end? As Jesus taught, we should understand “neighbor” broadly to include the historically forgotten.
Quakers seek to practice this way of being in the world, and we celebrate Pope Francis' historic pastoral letter on the environment, Laudato Si, published five years ago last month, and its message that loving our planet first means loving its people.
Based in Francis’ undying love for the poor and marginalized, it established for Catholics a spiritual connection between God’s creation and the overly politicized term “climate change.” Calling Earth “our common home,” Francis underscored that a danger to the most vulnerable is a danger to all.
Now five years on, the Vatican is putting its words into action. A newly released document, “Journey for the Care of the Common Home,” lays out standards and starting points for Catholics worldwide to identify ways to reduce their overall environmental footprint. Urgency was added to this guidance as the COVID-19 pandemic began to force a reckoning in humanity’s relationship with the planet. The time for concrete action is here.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation’s work on environmental issues celebrates this spiritual teaching that aligns so well with our Quaker vision of an Earth restored. Climate change has created an imbalance in the world resulting in unprecedented climate events that bring harm to people around the globe. These negative impacts are being borne by those least responsible for and least equipped to face the crisis.
Laudato Si — Praise be to you! — and “love thy neighbor” acknowledge that as moral people we are called to act on behalf of vulnerable populations who have been systemically ignored and exploited for financial and political gain. As people of faith, we cannot allow this practice to remain commonplace. Rather, when we legislate climate change and other environmental issues, we must hear and respond to, as Francis wrote, “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
Currently, the Trump administration is hearing neither. It has strategically rolled back, reversed or made changes to nearly 100 environmental laws and regulations, greatly aiding the fossil fuel industry and its business interests. Often dismissing or ignoring science, these changes will lead to significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions, leading to more dire health effects.
What’s more, the polluting industries that benefit from these environmental rollbacks are disproportionately situated next to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Those neighborhoods subsequently face perilously high levels of air and water pollution, even with regulations in place.
The administration’s actions in no way reflect the beliefs and hopes of millions of Americans and hundreds of millions around the world. As advocates, this dramatic rejection of policies and regulations that protect our planet is frustrating and despairing.
However, Laudato Si and “love thy neighbor” still instill a sense of hope in all of us. These timeless moral teachings will endure. We have the spiritual and public will behind us. Let the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si be our reminder that in order to love thy neighbor, we must preserve and protect our common home.
Praise be to you!
(Diane Randall is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Alicia Cannon is FCNL’s Sustainable Energy and Environment Program Assistant. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)