In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis presents “an educational challenge” (par. 209) that requires “educators capable of developing an ethics of ecology, and helping people, through effective pedagogy, to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care.” (par. 210)
The goal of this education is described throughout the Encyclical. For example:
– “awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.” This basic awareness, he predicts, “would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life.” (par. 202)
– “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation.” (par. 138)
What follows is a model of such a program. I am indebted to Dr. Orla OReilly Hazra, PhD, and to her students, for the following information and quotes.
Offering an Integrated Cosmic Vision
Orla and Prashant Olalekar, PhD, S.J. co-taught an honors course titled “Be the Dream: Awaken to Cosmic Compassion” at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. (For information about the course, see
IGNATIAN PEDAGOGY in an Evolutionary Universe: Report on Honours Course, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India)
Their students included the age group of 18-22, a variety of academic majors, and an even wider range of faith traditions, plus two teachers. These students learned the story of our 13.8 billion-year-old Universe. They absorbed the reality that our bodies and the bodies of all we see around us are part of everything that emerged from this evolution. The Universe Story — unknown for so long — conveys the wonder and awe that overwhelms many scientists as they face the stupendous creative power animating our journey together.
The big history of our lives was outlined through its 8 threshold moments: big bang, formation of galaxies, elements, solar system, life, humans, agricultural era, industrial era (and end of Cenozoic era from which we emerged) — and now our emerging 9th moment – the ‘ecozoic era’.
With this solid foundation, these students proved that “if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.” (par. 11)
The following quotes show that these students, confirmed in their place in the Universe Story, accept their responsibility for co-creating and fostering the flourishing for all. Their common response after listening to and meditating on their integral origin story was one of deep awe, wonder and reverence. Their journal entries reveal that they are now able to see their bodies and themselves and all around them as part of an integral co-creative process:
“We are such an amazing and significant part of this universe, evolving together with all species and forces of nature. I am mother earth and mother earth is me. Knowing about this cosmos has been the first step towards unraveling the purpose of my life. Having understood this, I wonder, won’t it solve our issues of inequality for we are cutting down separation/discrimination from its basic root” (Shweta)
“The Big Bang theory has never affected me the way it did today. We are all interrelated, we have emerged from the same stars. Thus my view has changed dramatically when it comes to looking at the problems of the world. The meditation did help us to delve deeper. I did notice that I should listen to myself and nature even more.” (Renisha)
“The immediate change on the surface level is to become sustainable: reduce use of plastics, eliminate shopping cravings, make homemade food and beauty products, a deep acknowledgement and compassion for my skin, my organs, my body that has been supporting me … maybe ever since 13.8 billion years … at moments like these I realize that I cannot continue my speech of ‘them’ and ‘us’ because we really are one, and we need to fight not only for the marginalized but also for Mother Earth. If I sit cross legged [in Indian meditation prayer] and decide that there is nothing I can do for Mother Earth, whose metals, atoms, chemicals are that which sustain and have made me, isn’t it rather a bit selfish and foolish to be doing?” (Kala)
Awareness of the integral existence of the Mystery in all things is the metanoia necessary. We currently struggle with a mindset that denies, rejects, or is simply unaware of our unity with all creation. As stated by Bernard Lonergan, SJ: “How indeed, is a mind to become conscious of its own bias when that bias springs from a communal flight from understanding and is supported by the whole texture of a civilization? (Lonergan, 1958, xv)
Healing the dualist mindset bias which is causing the problems in the first place is essential for the education advocated by Pope Francis. As ecotheologian Diarmuid O’Murchu rightly points out: “Reconnecting with the Earth – with the whole Earth — is the single greatest challenge now facing us as a human species.” Our primary context of the Cosmos is the basis of any ‘religious’ story and is the commons from which we all emerged.
The course described here, and experiences like it in schools, families, parishes, religious congregations, and organizations of all types, prove that from understanding our common heritage and common ground, a common reverence and responsible action can emerge globally — and with joy!
Call for More Examples
Please add, in comments, other examples of ways parents, teachers, authors and artists are enabling others to place our lives and our religious stories within the unity of all creation.