By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published June 22, 2016 | En Español
Occasionally we are fortunate to discover an individual who has carefully preserved a number of important and meaningful personal letters. Frequently, married couples, at a special anniversary event or at the death of a spouse, will open up the treasure of their hearts and share letters that they exchanged during the course of their courtship. Such letters reveal the budding love relationship between two people. They are always touching, sometimes quite comical, and perhaps even indicative of how a love story had its rocky moments but managed to endure. Letters can be a significant part of our personal histories.
Papal letters are also vital sources of our history as a church. Some papal letters are actually watershed moments in the life of the entire Church. I believe that Pope Francis has written such a momentous letter in “Laudato Si’,” whose first anniversary we recently commemorated on May 24. The letter is significant in that it asks all humanity to reflect upon and then take appropriate action in addressing a matter that touches all of our lives—the too rapid destruction of the environment that we share. The Holy Father calls upon his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, in admonishing us to care for the planet that we all must call our common home.
We were fortunate here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta to have had the expert and generous assistance of the University of Georgia Office of Environmental Sciences to help us to develop and endorse a plan of response to the Holy Father’s letter. That assistance was made possible through the generous and anticipatory interest of director Susan Varlamoff, who took the initiative to work with the Archdiocese of Atlanta even before the papal letter was published.
Our response to “Laudato Si’” has captured the interest of the broader ecumenical community here in Atlanta. Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley, a board member of National Interfaith Power and Light, have both strongly endorsed the response plan of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Both of these pastors see that this letter is not one that belongs exclusively to the Catholic Church but a letter written to all people of good will of every faith and those who might profess no particular religious faith. It’s a letter written to every person on the planet that we share. The Catholic pontiff wrote it, but he addressed the letter to everyone.
Like other historically significant letters, this one tells us a lot about our past and our future. Pope Francis’ letter details the consequences of the exploitation of our planet—especially those that impact the lives of the poor, who too frequently have no voice in controlling the actions of the powerful and the rich in determining how the resources of this one globe are used and shared.
Like other treasured letters, “Laudato Si’” traces how the present has been impacted by the past. The world that we inhabit began as a pristine reality, repeatedly described in the Book of Genesis as very good—as indeed it was fashioned to be. And all of us were commissioned to care for it and to preserve it for future generations. Pope Francis’ letter reminds us that there is still much work to be done.