By Roberto Jaramillo Bernal SJ
As a delegate to the Social Apostolate of the Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America (CPAL), I have spent time getting to know the work Jesuits are involved in – with indigenous people, with migrants, through social action centres, and so on. When I reread the encyclical Laudato Si’ with those contexts in my mind and heart, the first people I think about are the campesinos (peasant farmers) and indigenous people. They come to mind for three reasons: their wounds and suffering, their concerns and challenges, and most especially their ways of living and their teachings.
Their wounds and suffering
“The milpa (maize field) was lost, the plague destroyed everything; I’d never seen anything like it,” a rural woman in El Salvador told me last week. She continued, “It doesn’t rain and the heat is unbearable. The weather is crazy.”
Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. (LS 25)
“Large companies impose their laws and even their products; now they sell us their inputs to fertilize the palm trees. They (the companies) are left with everything: our fruit, our silver, our water, and even the land,” declared a farmer who has a small plot of African palm trees in Honduras.
Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. (LS 36)
“It is painful to see the mountain dead; the animals are gone. We can no longer cross that area to visit relatives on the other side. Even the air smells bad!” a man in Bolivia told me.
For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” (LS 8, quoting Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church)
Their concerns and challenges
“Now we will have to buy water to drink. We never could have imagined that!” said a group of farmers in the mountains of southern Colombia.
Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. (LS 30)
“Now the young people don’t want to stay in the fields. Some have even abandoned the land because we have to buy things in the city,” I was told by a Wapixana indigenous person in Brazil.
There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures … quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each human group. (LS 144)
“Below us it now looks like an anthill; when we were least expecting it the government authorized mining exploration. And once they find something of value … everything is already decided. We are the last to know what they are doing. And when we organize ourselves, they say that we are criminals and that we don’t want to see progress,” said an indigenous person in the Peruvian Amazon.
… a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (LS 49)
Their ways of living and their teachings
In spite of much pain and many difficulties, to have contact with the poor—whether indigenous people or peasants—is a source of consolation and hope. Many of them continue to resist the crazy “rapidification” (LS 18) of this world and individualism as a solution. We see them learning from nature, learning from a whole series of ecological cycles that they do not control, but that give meaning to their reality as human beings. They are the people who are the best “ethical resource” for a New Creation.
This article by Roberto Jaramillo Bernal SJ originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of CJI’s Mission News under the title “Latin America: People for a new creation.” Roberto Jaramillo Bernal SJ is Coordinator of the Social Apostolate of CPAL.