The Good Earth: Our Common Home

Professor Satendra Nandan’s book, Brief Encounters: Literature and Beyond, will be published this month and launched in Germany on 27 July at an international conference on Literature.   I’ve often
25 Jun 2015 14:07
The Good Earth:  Our Common Home
Pope Francis has championed the cause of the poor and marginalised in society.

Professor Satendra Nandan’s book, Brief Encounters: Literature and Beyond, will be published this month and launched in Germany on 27 July at an international conference on Literature.


I’ve often heard and read that we live in a ‘global world’, that we inhabit ‘one world’, that we must develop ‘a single planetary consciousness’, that the ‘world is one family’, that we’ve only ‘one world to share’ in our ‘common humanity’.

No-one, to my knowledge, has described Mother Earth as OUR COMMON HOME until now when Pope Francis called the Earth ‘Our Common Home’ and ‘Climate is a Common Good’ in his latest Papal Encyclical.

The idea of a Common Home has such deep emotional resonance—people who haven’t lost or have never been uprooted from their homes will scarcely feel its spiritual dimensions or it sacred connotations.

Furthermore, he has connected it to the idea of justice and social debt of the richer, industrialized nations to the poor, developing societies.

‘Global warming’, he warned, impacts most severely on the poorest of the poor. Its effect on the Pacific islands could be most severe—recent reports show that island communities are already planning to relocate from the most vulnerable island shores.

Several small nations will be affected disastrously and ways of life lost irretrievably, if the global warming continues unabated. It affects men and women, birds and bees.

Pope Francis has thrown both a moral challenge and practical hope for changing the mind-set of some thoughtless leaders and skeptics, including not a few ‘scientists’.

But Pope Francis’s call to the world’s richest nations raises the idea of Our Common Home and exalts the universal concept of ‘Home’ to a shared level.

I find it most appealing: it heals my heart and anneals my mind.

Pope Francis has often said that one must heal the wounds: one may not be able to cure the many cancerous growths but one can give a sense of wholeness of existence through faith, peace and justice.


Papal perspective

He’s the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, in fact from Latin America where more than two fifths of Catholics live; he brings perspectives beyond the many European adherents of the ancient Church.

Pope Francis has now given the idea of our Earth as Our Common Home an urgency and immediacy. He has added to it the ideas of justice, poverty and equality and challenged radically the very idea of ‘human progress’ in the light of environmental degradations.

The new Papal Encyclical connects the adverse effects of climactic climate changes to the current inequalities and injustices plaguing many societies struggling to feed their poor and displaced.

This is further connected to asylum seekers in our Asia-Pacific region and the waves of migration now touching the shores of Europe.

Pope Francis is equally aware of the human problems:For example, when asked how we should treat gay people, he said ‘Who am I to judge? What kind of love do we bring to others?Do we treat each other like brothers and sisters? Or do we judge one another?’

He echoes the Gospel often enough. He has written: ‘We want to enter fully in the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all…rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep…we are committed to building a new world’.

A cynic may say the last time we tried to build a new world,we began 500 years ago. No-one knows this better than the peoples of North and South Americas.

And Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is from that part of our Earth.

There are around 1.2 billion Catholics.There are, of course, many issues: birth control, abortion, gay marriages, ordination of women, on which all Popes take Vatican’s medieval positions. But Pope Francis seems determined to change the attitudes of papacy towards these and the language of discourse.


Equality of marriage

Once ‘equality of marriage’ was an anathema: today it’s an accepted reality– the recent referendum overwhelmingly endorsed it, of all places, in Catholic Ireland. Soon it’ll be debated in the Australian Federal parliament with a catholic prime minister, Tony Abbott.

But what distinguishes Pope Francis from his many predecessors, what makes the difference is that Pope Francis has embraced two of the most fundamental issues confronting our world: climate change and poverty. And both problems are of our making.


Gandhian vision

One has to read M K Gandhi’s book Hind Swaraj written and published in 2009, to appreciate what Gandhi knew and foreshadowed. The book was written in nine days on a ship returning from London to South Africa. It’s a passionate dialogue between a reader and an editor and clinically criticizes the unchecked industrial development and values of western civilization. The book was banned in India by the British colonial administration.

While Gandhi was writing his thoughts in the form of a dialogue, India was a colony and the population of the undivided subcontinent was around 300 million. Today, the population of India alone has quadrupled. And there is an arsenal of nuclear weapons in Gandhi’s piece of the Earth.

Mahatma Gandhi was not a scientist, nor is Pope Francis, but it seems that both these extraordinary individuals understood intuitively that men and women live in a common home and that home has to revered and protected for more than man—hence the name Francis, the new Pope chose for himself. St Francis is well-known for the love of all creatures, big and small.

Gandhi wrote that there’s enough for the need of everyone but not enough for the greed of even one of us.


Climate change

The good Pope Francis’s clarion call to the rich and powerful to do something about the effects of climate catastrophes staring us in the face is bound to have considerable effect.

The Pope’s voice brings to the issue a moral imperative and urgency to a global issue. No religious leader to my knowledge has raised this survival issue so emphatically, not of our species alone, but the very planet itself in his recent encyclical.

He has the courage to link it to wealth of nations and poverty of peoples as fundamental issues of social justice essential to freedom and human rights of now seven billion human souls and many more creatures which inhabit the infinite diversity of our universe. All are becoming endangered species.

Only a week ago the G7 nations in Germany agreed to curtail greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of this century. This was announced by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, possibly the most remarkable political leader in the current climate where the most mediocre have been exalted to some very important positions in several democratic nations.

Angela Merkel seems a bright light indeed. The decarbonisation of the global economy is vital. And to limit the global temperature rise to 2C but the final decisions are left to the individual nations. And therein lies the danger.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has made climate change in the South Pacific his very own concern. Here Fiji’s leadership is paramount. Fiji may shame its bigger, richer neighbours to act in stopping the global warming and not just stopping the boats by hook or by a few crooks.


Intellectual honesty

Recently the Fijian PM talked about intellectual honesty when the EU Commissioner acknowledged that the EU’s stand on Fiji and its reforms was misguided and myopic.

One hopes many more people will show that kind of intellectual honesty and personal integrity and see how Fiji was saved from a disastrous racial, glacial slide into a fragmented nation. That it has been stopped, thanks to Bainimarama’s courage and the determination of some of his colleagues, is Fiji gain. It’s been an uphill battle but reports from Fiji indicate that things are moving forward for the better.

The Pope of course has coupled the issues of climate change with world-wide poverty and our ideas of justice. And the responsibilities of richer nations who have benefited by the exploitation of fossil fuels to the detriment of environment around the earth and below its surface and beyond its horizons.

Pope Francis is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and that to from South America, he brings a totally different perspective on the industrialized economies of the Western world, built on the mindless exploitation of natural resources and labour of the once so-called the Third World.

The general response to the Pope’s call has been positive. He has added his important moral voice and stature.

The weight of world-wide evidence tells us that the world is facing disaster of unprecedented nature if nations and peoples do nothing about global warming. In the pursuit of economic progress, we could lose forever the pursuit of human happiness. The Pope has laid the greatest responsibility on the most developed nations: to those who acquired most through exploitation are now required to act decisively. Thomas Piketty’s 650-page book, Capital, and Pope Francis’s 180-page Encyclical have a very special message for the 21st century.

From Mururoa atoll to Paris is a long journey—it’s possible that a Pacific prime minister may add a new light to the Eiffel Tower in December.

And not far from Paris is Pope Francis’s abode.


Feedback: josuat@fijisun.com.fj


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