By Professor Robert Rak
Special to The Anchor
EASTON, Mass. — Dr. Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services delivered the recent André Lecture at Stonehill College in honor of St. André Bessette, a member of the Holy Cross Brothers canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 2010. Begun in 2011, with a theme of “Welcoming the Other,” it is a tribute to St. André’s example of welcome, inclusivity and acceptance. Woo, herself an immigrant from Honk Kong, was one of five presenters in Rome at the release of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, in June 2015. She is also the author of the book, “Working for a Better World” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015).
Woo began by explaining how Catholic Relief Services started in 1943 as part of the Catholic Church’s response to helping the refugees of World War II in Europe. Today they serve in 103 countries around the world helping 85-100 million people each year. Woo has traveled extensively with CRS and spoke of the current crises in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and in Central Africa and Southern Sudan. The problem is greater than after World War II.
Woo’s presentation was based on the concept that the abundance of God is “not just for the lucky, but for all.” She spoke of how five million children still die each year from malnutrition. She said that CRS works to “give food to the hungry, and give a hunger to those with food, for justice.”
Woo showed the video, “Catholic Social Teaching 101: Care for God’s Creation” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSnXuCxiHXE). This instructs us that the environment is the support system for human life and that, in the book of Genesis, God directs us to “keep and till the natural world.” We are tilling, but not doing a good job keeping. The pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, is a call for all of us to care for the environment and to always take into account the needs of the poor.
Woo developed her lecture around 10 points:
Point No. 1: Laudato Si’ means praised be. It is a praise for the bounty of God’s Creation with a warning that the earth, and many of its people, are crying out for help.
Point No. 2: The earth is our common home and we are made from its elements. We breathe its air and we eat its food. It is as intimate to us as our own bodies, but the pollution we are creating is affecting the health of our bodies.
Point No. 3: Laudato Si’ is not a scientific document but it is not without science. The pope knows about science. He was a chemist. He brought together top climate scientists for his encyclical. Science is the best tool for us to hear the cry of the earth.
Point No. 4: Laudato Si’ is similar to a country love song. The pope is trying to tell us that God loves us, but we don’t appreciate that love. God, the earth and our neighbors are all interrelated. We must be working together to care for our planet. Our overconsumption of products has become like idol worshipping. It is destroying our planet and the lives of the poor. They suffer without gaining any of the benefits that others gain who are polluting our planet. They ask “Why us?” She showed the video “Living on the edge of climate change” (http://www.facebook.com/CatholicReliefServices/videos/1015356859949545/) which presents the current plight of farmers in Guatemala.
Point No. 5: Climate change is causing a movement away from the family farms. It is splitting up families, as parents seek work to support their families. This can lead to parents migrating to countries, such as the U.S., and leaving their families behind
Point No. 6: Institutional and business behaviors around the world are causing problems. The rise of some cheap products in the U.S. are not without human costs. There is the use of cheap slave labor and workers are exposed to poor working conditions and toxic compounds. Water is taken away from local farmers to support business activities. Overconsumption is leading to greater waste. We dispose of what does not serve our needs and has no value to us. In the process we dispose of the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and prisoners. The pope calls this the Globalization of Indifference.
Point No. 7: Institutions’ and business’ major priority has become profits. The concept is to build at all costs to feed and induce consumption. Again the poor are excluded from the benefits, but suffer from the consequences. Our priorities should be people, planet, then profit.
Point No. 8: Our relationship with the earth means we have responsibilities. The pope is concerned about how we purpose our lives, and what type of world we want to leave behind for our children. We need an ecological conversion. We cannot depend on the markets or technology to solve all the problems we are facing. Solidarity and sustainability are virtues that we must seek for the common good of all people.
Point No. 9: Our ecological conversion must lead to action. We need to renew the soil, rebuild our watersheds, use less water, and plant more trees. We can try to live a simpler life that is ecologically friendly. We need to push for clean, renewable sources of power and advocate for a better way of living.
Point No. 10: Each of us must take something away from her talk. Woo presented the video, “The Best Speech about Humanity,” by American astronomer, Carl Sagan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWPFmdAWRZ0). Sagan points out that the earth is just a small dot in the universe, yet it is the only world that is known to harbor life, thus “it underscores our responsibility to deal kindly with one another and preserve and cherish this tiny dot, because it is the only one we have ever known.” Woo pointed out that we are taking so much from the earth, but we are not giving enough back to it. We each have a responsibility to do what we can. We don’t have permission to give up on these problems. Through Jesus’ Resurrection and return to His disciples, He showed that His love for them was always there. It gave them strength to face their future challenges. He teaches us that love is stronger than all of the world’s evils. Love gives us the strength to face our challenges today.