We have angered our common home

Published: October 14, 2015

On Tuesday, October 6, 2015, the Wake Forest School of Divinity hosted an interdisciplinary panel discussion around Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be”), in which Pope Francis calls for a holistic way of approaching climate change. We were honored to hear the responses to Laudato Si’ from four distinguished Wake Forest professors given their unique fields of study. Fred Bahnson, Director of the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative and Assistant Professor of the Practice of Ecological Well-Being at the School of Divinity, served as moderator, opening the conversation with a well-known quote from Laudato Si’, “We are in need of an ecological conversion.”

Dr. Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo, the Earley Assistant Professor of Catholic and Latin American Studies at the School of Divinity, started the discussion by offering a theological response to Laudato Si’. She began by reminding the audience that this popular document points us to the Catholic Church’s “best kept secret,” its social teaching. For many Protestants, including myself, Catholic social positions are unknown outside of abortion issues. However, Pope Francis himself in the introduction of Laudato Si’ reminds us of messages regarding creation care from previous Popes and leaders in the Catholic Church. Gandolfo spent the majority of her time responding to Pope Francis’ comments regarding the value of human life in the context of creation, “Our dignity is at stake. Human beings are no longer at the center of things, but are at the heart of the matter.”

Next up was Dr. Miles Silman, from the Biology Department of Wake Forest College, who took us on a visual journey to show the continuing impact of climate change on the earth at large. We fast-forwarded through a year of the carbon cycle via satellite recordings from NASA, reviewed projected numbers of temperature change, and saw proportionally how little fresh water is available compared to the amount of water on the entire planet. It was obvious through his language and tone how personally this subject resonates with Dr. Silman. In response to a student comment during the Q & A session, Dr. Silman remind the audience that the main purpose of Laudato Si’ was not to provide specific solutions, but to convict hearts and bring awareness to the climate crisis we have created.

Finally journalist and professor Justin Cantanoso made, in my opinion, one of the greatest impressions of the evening through his charisma and non-apologetic tone: “We’re creating an Earth that’s making Mother Nature furious. She’s taking it back. What are we going to do about it?” Professor Cantanoso, who also directs the journalism program, made the presentation personal as he shared stories from his reporting in La Oroya, the most polluted city in Peru. He presented a difficult, and yet common, situation: local Peruvians are falling ill as a result of the city’s pollution yet rely on the jobs provided by the coal plants to support their families. There were mixed responses from the people of La Oroya as Professor Cantanoso passed out copies of the Laudato Si’ there. Some Peruvians were filled with hope as they realized the Pope was “on their side” and that they were not alone in the fight for environmental and physical well-being. Yet others grew silent, knowing that “creation care” in Peru means closing down the plants and losing their jobs. These plants employ 30,000 people… here lies the tension and complexity of the environmental and economic situation we find ourselves in.

As a first-year student at Wake Forest School of Divinity, I am thankful that we are creating space around these topics. I am currently enrolled in the Introduction to Food, Faith, and Health class, where we discussed the Laudato Si’ several weeks ago. As future faith leaders, we need to be having these conversations. Our planet was a gift from God to be stewarded. At this point most of us just regard Earth as a resource for our consumption. How will we lead our churches, non-profits, and faith communities to enter into this difficult space and renew the effort of caring for our Common Home?

For more information about the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Forest University, click here.

kerral15Amanda Kerr
First Year

Amanda is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina and attended undergraduate school at NC State University (Go Pack!). Amanda often refers to herself as a “recovering know it all” and is thankful for the environment at Wake Forest School of Divinity to ask questions and learn from the ecumenical community. She has a passion for bridging the gap between sacred and secular, conservative and progressive, and believes it is of great importance that we make space for difficult conversations in the faith community.