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Canadians should remember that “everything is connected”

July 29, 2017
(Among the millions of Canadians who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada are Roman Catholics, some of whom rallied on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario in June of 2016. CNS photo/Art Babych)
The staff of Salt + Light Media come from 14 different countries. This summer, for Canada's 150th anniversary, we are reflecting on what makes Canada special to each of us. Here Sebastian Gomes, producer and host, reflects on some of our most pressing challenges, summoning Canadians to a holistic approach.
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At S+L we've begun production on a new documentary entitled "The Francis Impact". If the phrase sounds familiar, that's intentional. It will be a kind of sequel to our 2014 film "The Francis Effect," which explored the emerging themes of Francis's pontificate one year into his mandate.
In our view, "The Francis Impact" refers to the next chapter of that story, namely, where Francis's message and vision is taking root and affecting real, grassroots change. Perhaps his most publicized and far-reaching message is caring for our common home, the earth. So the impact of Laudato Si' will undoubtedly have a place in our film.
That said, since July 1st - Canada Day, I've been thinking about the relative impact Pope Francis is having here in Canada, not just on the church but on the wider society. From my research I've discovered the impact varies: in some areas it's quite apparent, in others it's notably absent. We face a lot of challenges as a country moving forward, not least of which is climate change and our lingering dependence on fossil fuels. But no matter the challenge, I think it's worth including the Pope's voice in the conversation, and here's why...
There is an important principle the Pope shares in Laudato Si' that Canadians should consider as we celebrate our 150th anniversary, and look with measured expectation to the future. At strategic points in the text the Pope writes, time and again that, "Everything is connected."
In the context of Laudato Si', that means, "Concern for the environment 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) In other words, there is no such thing as real, effective care for the earth apart from care for every person and society as a whole. That has major societal implications.
For example, the Pope observes, "It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment." (LS 91)
This principle—everything is connected—simultaneously chides any attitude that promotes a singular issue, and challenges everyone to expand their view of reality.
Another example is the Pope's emphasis on the poor. In particular, how pollution and environmental degradation in developed nations, like Canada, directly harms people and land thousands of kilometers away, especially in the Global South. Quoting the Bolivian bishops, Francis writes, "Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest." (LS 48) Developed countries are by far the worst polluters.
This is an important insight in and of itself. "Everything is connected," as Francis would say. But it also applies beyond the global environmental crisis. I heard a similar argument from the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, when he came to Toronto in May of this year to speak about euthanasia/assisted dying.
Euthanasia has been an especially contentious issue here in Canada since the 2015 Supreme Court decision to decriminalize it. Statistics show that most Canadians approve of euthanasia in very rare cases only, yet the strong lobby from a minority group will likely succeed progressively in making euthanasia widely available.
Cardinal Müller's argument against the legalization of euthanasia is one not often discussed, and yet reflects Pope Francis's logic of the poor. The Cardinal convincingly argued that the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide inexorably leads to "grave and lethal new forms of fraud, abuse, coercion and discrimination against the disabled, poor, elderly, and minorities." In other words, the freedom of some individuals to choose when to die comes at a cost: the dignity of the poorest and weakest in society. In the Netherlands, the Cardinal pointed out, for every three or four instances of voluntary euthanasia, there is one case of killing without consent.
As Canada grapples with the euthanasia question, a disturbing number of youth in remote Indigenous communities are committing suicide. They are not suffering from terminal illnesses, or restricted to a vegetative state. They are regular kids who have lost hope. Systems of social injustice have created and perpetuated the plight of the Indigenous communities of Canada.
"Everything is connected," the Pope says. "When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself." (LS 117)
"We have to realize that 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)
Canada's 150th anniversary is an occasion to celebrate who we are. It's also an occasion to reflect on who we would like to be. The complex and daunting challenges we face do not arrive in isolation. "It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected," Francis reminds us. (LS 138)
We would all benefit from adopting this principle of reality, and to proceed even further with a collective, dialogical analysis of how everything is connected. With Laudato Si', Francis has given us a good place to start.
"We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference." (LS 52)
- Pope Francis
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