D.T. Gonzalez – Ecological Works of Mercy

A Sign of the Times

Perplexity is the state of the small farmer in Cebu, for her cropshad shriveled in one season and had drowned or been swept away in the next, owing to extreme weather conditions.  Monte de Ramos gives poetic voice to the farmer’s confusion as regards “great changes in the heavens” and her questions such as the following:

Why has the southwest wind lost its way, no longer arriving on the usual day?…Is that a cloudburst or a deluge coming, or the thirst that goes with drought?  How do you read the clouds when ancient wisdom no longer holds, is left behind as time unfolds?[14]

In our age of climate change, this seems to be one of “the signs of the times:”indigenous peoples and small farmers and fisherfolkno longercan depend on ancient wisdom to “know how to discern the face of the sky” (cf. Mt 16:2-3).  Thus, it is another ecological work of mercy to help the poor and vulnerable groups to expand their scientific, ethical, aesthetical, cultural, and religious understanding of the climate, nature, and wildlife.

Ecological Education

Educating the novice, the confused, and the insufficiently informed as regards scientific knowledge on the climate and the environment is an undertaking that is both merciful and respectful when the scientific education is done in language that is accessible to the target audience and sensitive to, or resonant with, the local culture.  For Pope Francis, “integral ecology…calls for greater attention to local cultureswhen studying environmental problems, favoring a dialogue between scientific-technicallanguage and the language of the people” (LS, 143).  When used without cultural or contextual sensitivity, scientific and academic language often would appear elitist, alienating, and disempowering to poor and vulnerable groups.

It is another ecological work of mercy to help poor and vulnerable groups to invent or to utilize low-cost local technology and technical instruments for the following: for small farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, and landless families in geo-hazard zones to monitor unexpected changes so as to prepare for “the scornful weather that has lost sense of the seasons”[15]; for urban poor families to grow organic food and medicinal herbs through household or communal composting and indoor farming.[16] The low-cost technology will have to be culturally sensitive,and as much as possible, the materials for making or assembling such instruments can be found in the locale or region.

It is an ecological work of mercy to help poor and vulnerable families and communities to survive and adapt creatively to climate change and environmental degradation.Then when they become climate change refugees, or abandon their homes and locales to seek refuge from environmental disasters, it is an ecological work of mercy to welcome them and offer hospitality.

As for affluent and not-so-affluent persons who are obsessed with consumption that generates needless waste and climate-changing emissions, ecological education has these priorities: the adoption of moderate or simple lifestyles, the development of ecological habits or virtues like temperance, and the discovery of joy and peace in “fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer” (LS, 223).

[14] Monte de Ramos, 36-37.

[15] Honorio Bartolome de Dios, “Rainbow’s Edge,” in Agam, 51.

[16] Even before the advent of Laudato Si’, composting and organic farming have been at the forefront of common ecological initiatives of some religious communities in the Philippines.  See Daniel Franklin Pilario, “Caring for Our Common Home: Responses of Philippine Religious Congregations to Laudato Si,” unpublished report to the CBCP (2016), 2.  Among other initiatives, “pastoral care for dumpsite workers” is an ecological ministry that needs to be sustained and expanded.  “The Philippines does not have high-tech recycling machineries like in First World countries.  We have human recyclers, scavengers in Payatas dumpsite, for instance.  It is desirable that the Church be there for them.”  See Pilario, 2-3.