‘Laudato Si’ week and ‘The Letter’
I had watched “The Letter” when it was released on the feast of Saint Francis last year but watching it again this “Laudato Si” week as a main feature brought on tears. If you have not watched the documentary yet, find it online. You can even arrange for a group viewing and opt for English subtitles courtesy of the Laudato Si Movement.
May 21 to 28 is “Laudato Si” week to commemorate the release in May 2015 of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking papal encyclical “Laudato Si” which is about “care for our common home,” that is, planet Earth and everything/one in it. The title comes from the opening lines of St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures”: “Laudato Si, mi Signore … (Praise be to you, my Lord … )”
Pope Francis begins thus: “In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us …”
(An aside: When Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope in 2013 and took on the name Franciscus, I thought he was naming himself after his fellow Jesuit, Saint Francis Xavier, the great missionary. Turned out he was taking on the name of Il Poverello of the Fransiscans and the patron saint of the environment. )
Even if the reader goes only as far as the second paragraph of the first page and no further, there is enough to make one pause, think, and do something to save our shared home that is so badly ruined it is almost on the brink of no return.
Here goes: “This sister 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 violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air, and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Romans 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air, and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” Full stop there.
“Laudato Si” is a masterpiece of theology thinly cloaked in the science of ecology in economic, political, industrial, technological, and all other contexts besides. It serves a warning which, to me, sounds like “It’s now or never … tomorrow will be too late.”
If “Laudato Si” is hard to chew (it is not), try “The Letter.” It is a beautiful one-and-a-half hour documentary, not as apocalyptic as Al Gore’s award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” (about global warming). “The Letter” is more personal. Five environmental advocates from different parts of the world—a man from Senegal, a teenage girl from India, a marine biologist couple from Hawaii, a leader of an indigenous community in Brazil (I love his headgear of bird feathers)—get invited for a face-to-face meeting with Pope Francis.
A letter from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is sent to each one via snail mail. The whole process is recorded, scripted for sure, but the letter itself holds its own for the camera. It warms and opens up the heart. In the documentary, each invitee is introduced in the context of his/her woes and worries—the destruction of Brazil’s Amazon and near-death experiences of its feisty defender, the dying coral reefs in the ocean, the calamities in Senegal, an Indian teenager having nightmares about her future.
The images are at once tragic and awesome. The creatures of the wild so beautiful but endangered, nature’s splendor matched by its unforgiving fury. The sound effects and music go from easy pop to swirling symphonic—how cool is that. There is genius in the team that created the documentary (written and directed by Nicolas Brown), so attuned they are to the pulse beat of their subject matter.
The small group discussion with Pope Francis held at the Sala Stampa is lively but emotional, thrill mixed with the shrillness of the desperate voices from different homelands. They have the Pope’s ear. “The Letter” has a double entendre; it also refers to “Laudato Si,” the Pope’s letter to the world.
From the ancient man-made splendor of the Vatican City, the group heads for Assisi, there to drink from St. Francis’ well and share further under a canopy of green with Laudato Si Movement chair Lorna Gold presiding. Suddenly, someone excuses himself to weep among the trees.
Unlike “An Inconvenient Truth” that was shown in commercial theaters years ago, “The Letter” is free and is only a few clicks away. As “Laudato Si” week segues into World Environment Day (June 5), and as we await the dreaded El Niño, read or watch “The Letter.”
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