By Ken Butigan
I am writing from Assisi, the city of St. Francis, just days after his namesake Pope Francis issued “Laudito Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home,” the Vatican’s historic encyclical on the environment.
The pope’s 186-page letter is a powerful call to action inviting people everywhere—including those of us building Campaign Nonviolence—to dramatically accelerate the pressing work of healing our wounded world. You can read it here.
I am in Assisi because I was asked by DePaul University to lead a study abroad program to Italy for first-year students on “St. Francis of Assisi’s Pilgrimage of Peace.” Following a ten-week class in Chicago, fourteen of us have spent this week visiting the places where St. Francis underwent a profound shift in values eight centuries ago —just as we, today, are being challenged to transform our way of seeing, and being, in this fragile world.
St. Francis was groomed for upward mobility by his wealthy, merchant class family—until three shattering events changed his path forever. The first was his experience of war, including a bloody, pitched battle followed by a year spent as a prisoner of war that stripped combat of its glamour and eventually led him to a life of relentless peacemaking. The second was an experience of systematic oppression, revealed through his exchange with a person afflicted with leprosy, whom his society taught him to avoid but who, in their intimate exchange, revealed that all human beings matter and are infinitely worthy of love. The third was a call to rebuild a local, neglected church building, which ultimately set him on the course to rebuild the institutional church of his time.
Each of these encounters radically shook Francis free from the scripts imposed by his class and culture, and fostered a way of life that hurtled him, step by step, past the barriers that separate human beings from one another, but also from the entire cosmos. Similarly, the great challenge of our own time is to nonviolently remove any barrier or separation that contributes to domination, dehumanization, or diminishment of ourselves, of others, or of the earth.
Pope Francis’ encyclical urges us to overcome these boundaries, to see how we are knit into the wholeness of all of creation, and to foster right relationship with our planet. Like St. Francis, who saw the interrelationship between greed, war, and injustice, Pope Francis underscores how healing the earth is not possible without transforming our economic order, ending poverty, and fostering peace.
The tremendous press Laudito Si’ has received—and the caustic reaction it has provoked from some politicians who adamantly oppose the monumental shift necessary to avert long-term environmental collapse—testify to its importance. Not simply setting out a theological position, this new encyclical is a clarion call that could prove pivotal in the global struggle to save the earth, especially if the churches and the larger human family mobilize their vast global resources and networks to translate its powerful words into even more powerful transformation.
But this call to action will only have the staying power if we, like St. Francis, are willing to undergo a profound conversion: not in this case to a particular religious tradition or belief system, but to a new way of being—changing our personal and cultural patterns of economic domination and consumption, ending the violence and injustice that this domination and consumption inflict on the planet and all people, and making the well-being of all the priority in our lives and in our societies.
This is a tall order, especially because it will require action—determined, persistence, grounded, and profoundly nonviolent, carried out in a welcoming spirit recognizing that all of us, even those we disagree and struggle with, will be part of the solution.
In their own contexts St. Francis and Pope Francis connect the dots by stressing the interwoven relationship between disparate challenges and by taking a systemic approach. Campaign Nonviolence – fostering a culture of peace free from war, poverty, environmental destruction, and the epidemic of violence—echoes this need for a holistic approach to solving the great challenges of our day.
Let us take inspiration from Laudito Si’ to build a movement that repairs the world and nourishes its inhabitants.
Watch the Campaign Nonviolence National Conference online August 6-9 (link will be posted on the conference webpage near the date) to experience a host of great speakers articulating this comprehensive approach—and then take action with Campaign Nonviolence during the nationwide Week of Nonviolent Actions, September 20-27, in all 50 states and beyond. Please organize a nonviolent action in your local community that week—and let us know about it on our actions page here.
Together, we are called at this critical turning point to deepen and broaden the growing movement to repair our common home.