Sunday, 28 June 2015 17:17

Papal letter and violence in Charleston, S.C., converge

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If Pope Francis's encyclical letter Laudato Si' (Praised Be) had been the only compelling news story of recent days, I would have had plenty to write about.

With tremendous grief, however, we must also turn to the June 17 murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

laughery prayer serviceIf Pope Francis's encyclical letter Laudato Si' (Praised Be) had been the only compelling news story of recent days, I would have had plenty to write about.

With tremendous grief, however, we must also turn to the June 17 murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Pope Francis has written about the earth as "our common home" for which all human beings must "care." His letter is a critique of the "consumerist" way of life of our country and so many others. In the consistent tradition of the social encyclicals which the Bishops of Rome have offered the world since 1891, Francis asks human beings to consider how we treat one another.

Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (Of New Things) analyzed the role of workers in a changing, industrializing world economy. Leo highlighted the fact that human beings were being reduced to mere economic instruments, and championed the right of workers to organize so that they might be treated in their work with the dignity due to them as human beings. The fact that nearly every pope since Leo has seen fit to review this theme demonstrates that this simple message has yet to be heeded.

Pope Francis questions current industrial exploitation of the earth's resources. He takes care to refute the arguments of those who would take Genesis 1:28, "Fill the earth and master it," as if it were license to abuse the earth and its resources, including its human resources. Francis turns to Genesis 2:15 and the first man's call to "till and tend" the garden in which he found himself. Human activity must be carried out in harmony with the gift of the "common home," earth.

We are well aware of human mistreatment of humans on economic pretexts. The history of our nation is bound up with a tremendous failure to recognize the humanity of those who were forcibly removed from their homes in order to become an enslaved class upon American shores.

We find ourselves considering the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, in 1816, just under 200 years ago. Christians found themselves being discriminated against by fellow Christians: hence the urge to set up a new church. The Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, founded shortly after the denomination was established, is a witness to a chilling history, from the execution of a founding pastor to the murders of June 17.

We Catholics of the Springfield diocese must, of course, reflect deeply upon a history which includes the emergence of Abraham Lincoln and the once-enslaved Augustus Tolton, who was ordained a Catholic priest in 1886 and served in his hometown of Quincy, experiencing both enthusiastic reception and poisonous rejection during the three years he ministered to the people of our local church.

The resources of earth, our common home, take many forms. Human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, have the joyful vocation of discovering that we are a gift to one another. If people are to be called "resources," we are to be considered so in a way which does not reduce us to an instrument of another's will. A papal letter and nine murdered Christians move us to take a new look at the reality we live every day. Can this world, created and redeemed by God, become a home where all are rightly esteemed? Can we then help each other to respect the earth? Recent days have been calling us precisely to this.