On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis released the epoch-making Laudato Si to the world.  The encyclical was not only timely but pointed out very ambitious directions to checkmate the impending global disaster arising from climate change. As we celebrate the third anniversary of this historic encyclical, AEFJN offers an overview of our impression of this exceptional Church document.

In recent times, no church document has been received so well by such a wide spectrum of nations, regions and races as Laudato SI. Before Laudato SI, the international community had long recognised and accepted that a catastrophe was looming over the universe and urgent, global, ambitious and concerted actions were needed to avert the situation. However, there is a huge gap between knowing what is right and going out of your way to do what is right, as well as a huge gap between doing what is legal and what is helpful. AEFJN identifies the gaps in the two scenarios as the area where action is needed. Navigating through this space requires great openness to ethical values and imperatives. It is the space that the community of nations has been unwilling to enter; one that over the years has hindered the climate negotiations from making much progress because it might mean letting go of some national interests for the sake of the global good. It has been convenient to forget that no one is safe until all of us are safe. Pope Francis in Laudato Si provides the leadership to enter this sacred space.

Though Laudato SI inspired and impacted some conversations and decisions of COP21; and went on to inspire many initiatives for realising the Paris climate agreement, it is yet to galvanise a sufficient fraction of the human population to protect what Pope Francis aptly called our common home. AEFJN emphasises that the root of our ecological crisis is our unsustainable system of production and consumption. Consequently, the imperative to change course must hold the economic and ethical dimensions together. It requires a new understanding of the Christian anthropology in an inter-connected and inter-dependent ecosystem, the priority of economic sustainability over performance, a critical rethinking of our economic models, production systems and investments and of the meaning of progress and development being bandied around for vested economic interests.

Just as Pope Francis has taken the lead in suggesting directions for the whole world to follow, the Church itself must live by them so that the thrust of Laudato SI does not look like Utopia. The Church and her institutions must take concrete steps to champion the course of attitudinal change in investments to ensure that the common good, ecological sustainability, promotion of Human rights and Human life are primary ethical values and imperatives in her investments policies. The Church and her institutions must reach out to collaborate with investors that share her values and call for similar values in their investments. AEFJN specifically calls on her member Congregations to be front-liners in this regard. It is gratifying to know that some have divested (e.g. fossil-fuel investments) and that some are in the process of doing this, but many more are yet to decide on divestment. There is an urgent need for a critical mass-action to trigger-off the desired change in our economic structures and systems of production. AEFJN is counting on her members to be unwavering flag-bearers in the quest for sustainable investments.

One of the low sides of the third anniversary of Laudato SI celebration is the poor level of response to the papal initiative from the African continent. While we celebrate pockets of initiatives in the global north and propose the sharing of best investment practices to inspire more initiatives so as to create that critical mass for a systemic change, we are equally concerned about the lack of such initiatives in Africa. Africa will be one of the most hit by climate change, and unfortunately, it is one of the least equipped for effective responses. It is puzzling then that a continent that will be most hit knows and does very little about the danger in front of her. It appears that being trapped in survival mode has prevented Africa from seizing the opportunity presented by Laudato Si. Africa needs to join forces with the rest of the world. She needs to ask the relevant questions and seek out the relevant answers. The moment to act is now.

As Laudato Si clocks three, AEFJN renews the call echoed by Pope Francis to save our common home. We commend all the positive steps taken by diverse people of diverse faiths and creeds in response to the Pope’s call. We renew our pledge to keep reaching out in advocacy for a sustainable world. There are pockets of group actions in the global south; we call for more. The African response is still largely invisible and unfelt. What steps can be taken by the Church in Africa, beginning with the Episcopal Conferences, to galvanise the people for the kind of mass-action that Laudato SI calls for?  In the quest for a sustainable earth, no effort is insignificant and not to act at all is to sabotage the collective aspiration of this generation and deny future generations a place in our common home.

Chika Onyejiwa

AEFJN Executive Secretary