A reflection on Laudato Si, the encyclical letter by Pope Francis
Each year, along with others in the Traveller community, the Parish of the Travelling People marks Traveller Pride Week. This week the Parish is preparing for the great feast of Pentecost and it seemed appropriate to reflect on the encyclical letter published on that feast day in 2015 by Pope Francis which is entitled, Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home.
On 5th June, the Parish invited Sr Nelly McLoughlan (centre) to reflect with members of the Parish; our theme was Caring for Ourselves, Our Community and Our Planet.
Care for Our Planet
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her... (LS 2)
We began by asking ourselves what we think of when we hear the words “our Common Home”. For some, it is the planet we inhabit; for others it is the intimate space in which we find shelter.
It is a place of relationships and connections and we were mindful of the life in the seas, on the land and in the air. We spent time to think of the harm that can is being done mindlessly; plastic waste and the pollution of the air we breathe by cars. We thought of the chemicals that can kill off creatures like worms and bees; but without these our land cannot grow the food we need. We became aware of our choices and also the role of government and industry that are needed to make us a caring society. Then we asked ourselves what can we do?
Some supermarkets have made space for plastic wrapping to be left in the shop and that is a good start but more can be done to recycle. A few spoke being the “first Greens” because the Traveller community has a long tradition of re-using and selling second-hand goods and clothes in the markets. These words today echo a message written years ago in an article by Colin Clark and Micheál Ó'hAodha, 'We were the First Greens’, Irish Travellers, recycling and the State (1993). The authors noted the words and the “fierce pride” that an Irish Traveller had in his work of scrapping and recycling and goes on to quote earlier research:
Tons of steel, iron, copper, lead, and other metals would be wasted if not reclaimed in this way; the Travellers also recycle used clothing, appliances, and furniture from the middle classes to the poor (Gmelch, 1985: 70).
These researchers noted that Traveller enterprise is flexible, dynamic and small-scale. Traveller use initiative to create the wealth by filling gaps within the recycling economy. The settled approach is more rigid; it requires more financial investment, regulations and “good” business practices. The Traveller ways appear disorganised, unproductive and a waste of time and effort.
Care for Ourselves and our Community
In today’s world, Travellers are blamed for rubbish and often treated like rubbish because Traveller ways are not valued. But the Traveller Community is not a waste of time and effort. Travellers have pride and many in the community are working hard and persistently for a better world.
At the Parish Traveller Pride event, we declared that to care for ourselves is to care for the community which is to care for the planet because everything is connected.
Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society. (LS, 91)
Travellers continue to be active; using initiative and creativity while working in areas concerned with Mental Health, Primary Health Care and Community Development. The work of making a better world is a commitment to a life-time effort. There are challenges and opportunities; there are weaknesses and strengths.On social media, there are new ways of making persistent unmet needs known: #TravellerLivesMatter, #TravellerHomesMatter. These are not new demands. For decades, Travellers have been asking for support for the provision of:
- Access to Recycling Centres for Traveller enterprise
- Affordable insurance for Traveller enterprise and cultural activities
- Storage facilities included in sites of Traveller accommodation
The pace of change is slow and there are setbacks. Perhaps we can learn from nature. Growth comes in seasons and over generations. As a Parish, we planted a tree. It symbolises new life and hope. We ended our day of reflection with another prayer for the earth and for the Traveller community. As we left the garden, we passed a broken statue of Our Lady. Let us conclude with some words from Pope Francis taken from his letter, On Care for Our Common Home.