The phrase “love thy neighbor” captures a call to see our shared humanity with a call to action. As Jesus taught, we should understand “neighbor” broadly to include the historically forgotten.
Quakers seek to practice this way of being in the world, and we celebrate Pope Francis’ historic pastoral letter on the environment, Laudato Si, published five years ago last month, and its message that loving our planet first means loving its people.
Based in Francis’ love for the poor and marginalized, it established for Catholics a spiritual connection between God’s creation and climate change. Calling Earth “our common home,” Francis underscored that a danger to the most vulnerable is a danger to all.
The Vatican is putting its words into action. A new document, “Journey for the Care of the Common Home,” lays out standards for Catholics to reduce their environmental footprint.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation’s work on environmental issues celebrates this spiritual teaching, which aligns with our Quaker vision of an Earth restored. Climate change has created an imbalance in the world resulting in unprecedented harmful climate events. These impacts are being borne disproportionately by those least equipped to face the crisis.
Laudato Si — “Praise be to you!” — and “love thy neighbor” acknowledge that we are called to act on behalf of vulnerable populations who have been systemically ignored and exploited for financial and political gain. As people of faith, we cannot allow this practice to remain commonplace. Rather, when we legislate climate change and other environmental issues, we must hear and respond to, as Francis wrote, “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
Currently, the Trump administration is hearing neither. It has rolled back, reversed or made changes to nearly 100 environmental laws and regulations, aiding the fossil fuel industry and its business interests. Often dismissing or ignoring science, these changes will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and dire health effects.
What’s more, the polluting industries that benefit from these environmental rollbacks are disproportionately situated next to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Those neighborhoods subsequently face perilously high levels of air and water pollution, even with regulations in place.
However, Laudato Si and “love thy neighbor” bring a sense of hope. Let the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si be our reminder that to love our neighbor we must protect our common home.
Diane Randall is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Alicia Cannon is FCNL’s sustainable energy and environment program assistant.