Nino Puglisi reports on the EcoOne online conference: ‘New ways towards integral ecology’ which took place from 23–25 October 2020. It looked at the legacy and the impact of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’ which was published five years ago.

[New City Magazine – December 2020]

EcoOne is an ecological and cultural initiative of the Focolare Movement, striving to bring into ecology both a humanistic and spiritual dimension.

The conference which connected around 400 people from all over the world in five simultaneous translations (English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Hungarian) brought together the work of academics, professionals and grassroot supporters active in environmental sciences.

Our common home

The environmental crisis represents undoubtly one of the most urgent and critical problems of our time. Pope Francis in his encyclical letter Laudato Si’ has emphasized the need ‘to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home’ (LS 3). Moving from that huge vision and challenged by the Covid-19 situation, participants were offered high level academic insights as well as a range of tools and testimonies about how we can make an impact in the current ecological crisis.

Ecology and interfaith perspectives

During the conference I chaired a fascinating session on ecology and interfaith perspectives. The webinar entitled ‘A Dialogue on Laudato Si’’ wanted to offer a focus on the role that people of faith can play in addressing climate change and all its devastating consequences. In particular, we explored how Christianity, Islam and Hinduism can help bring back into the ecological discourse, the element of the sacred that is very much at the heart of Laudato Si’.

On this special panel we had three very distinguished guests from different religious traditions, who were also three personal friends and friends of the Focolare. They are active in promoting the protection of the environment starting from a spiritual vision of the natural world: Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali (UK), the founding Director of the Risalat International Institute. Rev. Dr John Chryssavgis (US), archdeacon and theological advisor on environmental issues to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Mr. Gopal D. Patel (US), director of Bhumi Global – a Hindu NGO working to promote environmental care and action and also co-chair of the UN Multifaith Advisory Council.

A new ecological culture

Personally, it was a fascinating and enchanting dialogue which helped me realize once more the deep spiritual significance of the natural world and how that can help motivate a much-needed ecological and anthropological conversion and promote a new ecological culture.

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis appeals ‘for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet’, and urges us to open ‘a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all’ (LS 14).

The one-hour-long webinar that is now available online on the EcoOne YouTube channel is packed with wisdom and spiritual insights.

Interfaith dialogue

I would like to highlight just a few passages from our conversation that stuck with me personally.

Dr Shomali emphasized right at the beginning, our shared responsibility as people of faith in protecting our common home and the need to work together. He also offered a very clear indication on how we can do that by reminding us that in order to dialogue ‘we need conversation and conversion’.

A special mention throughout the webinar was made to the role that His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew has played in the context of ecology. Rev. Chryssavgis, who is the theological adviser on environmental issues to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, reminded us of our spiritual mandate to promote the protection of creation. In the words of the Patriarch ‘the very life of the Church is an applied ecology’ (message for the World Day of Creation 1st September 2020).

Mr Gopal Patel who has recently coordinated a Multifaith Advisory group of faith-based organisations consulting the UN on the environment, stressed the importance of religions in the context of ecology: ‘We need to make space to grieve at what we have done to the world… We have to be able to hold that grief, and transform it into positive action, to give hope that things can get better.’

The need for wisdom and spiritual vision

Our conversation converged on the fact that science alone is not sufficient to get us out of the crisis and that we need wisdom. Laudato Si’ has a beautiful passage about this reminding us that ‘rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise’ (LS 12).

Laudato Si’ emerged as a universal invitation to care for nature and for one another, and, in order to do that, we need to seek wisdom, creativity and love. The word ‘love’ is actually used in the text around 70 times indicating a path on which everyone is invited to walk. Only by ‘being love’, in fact, can humanity restore that gaze on herself and on the rest of creation to rediscover that golden thread of love which is between all beings.

As Chiara Lubich beautifully puts it ‘on earth everything is in a relationship of love with everything else: each thing with each thing. But we need to be love in order to find the golden thread of love between beings.’

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