March 14, 2023 — Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, returned to his alma mater, Gonzaga University, on March 9, 2023, to deliver a talk with practical advice and inspiration for addressing the climate crisis. He emphasized Pope Francis’ challenge that caring for the planet will take all its residents’ best efforts.
As the Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Czerny is the Catholic Church’s leader in efforts to become better caretakers of the planet. He traveled from Rome to Spokane, Washington, to challenge the Gonzaga University community to lead and take action in pursuit of the “care for our common home” outlined in Pope Francis’ “Laudato si” encyclical. Nearly 700 people attended the event.
Cardinal Czerny, who graduated from Gonzaga in 1968, recalled how words like “ecology” and “environmentalism” were not yet part of the national conversation when he was a student. But the Vietnam War—and specifically the use of napalm to make the terrain of the Viet Cong uninhabitable—was “an early if terrible lesson in the interconnectedness between human and environmental destruction, instead of human and environmental sustainability.”
In September 2019 when global climate protests took place in 150 different countries, Cardinal Czerny noted that the activism wasn’t led by university students or faculty members, but by school children and teenagers. “Where were the universities?” he asked.
“I think that in the current era of planetary emergency, our universities need to become once again the place for a new way of critical thinking about our existence in our common home and catalysts for action that can transform society and the world.”
Cardinal Czerny recommended two texts to help with that transformation, both of them encyclicals from Pope Francis: “Laudato si” and “Fratelli tutti.” Their messages were simplified by the cardinal to “what needs doing, and who’s to do it?”
“Those who have contributed least to causing the crisis in the first place are usually its early and disproportionate victims,” he said. “’Laudato si’ is, in fact, more of a social encyclical than one on climate change. As an attentive reader pointed out, ‘climate’ is mentioned just 14 times in the text, while ‘the poor,’ 59 times.”
Pope Francis’ “Fratelli tutti” message focuses on “our interrelated and interdependent” existence. “If ‘Laudato si’ reminds us that Earth is our common home and our shared inheritance, ‘Fratelli tutti’ tells us that we are all members of a single family,” Cardinal Czerny said.
“Deep down, we are all siblings. We are indeed responsible for each other.”
“My neighbors are from other tribes,” Cardinal Czerny said. Jesus wants us to know that any differences between us in origin, race, language, religion, orientation, political affiliation are “all irrelevant when asking, ‘Who is my neighbor? Who is my sibling?’”
“Unless we get beyond tribalism, we won’t be able to offer our poor, beaten-up, half-dead world the first aid it needs more and more each day,” he said. “The alternative—not to care, to blame the system, to blame the victims—is to fall into despair.”
Fortunately, we have the ability to make a difference, Cardinal Czerny said, including dialoguing with our neighbors and demanding better politics and more equitable economies.
“We need to speak more of eco-justice today, especially in our universities,” he said. “Eco-justice is primarily about concern for the poor and vulnerable members of our common household. Eco-justice demands that the right to development of the poor and the question of poverty alleviation be placed at the heart of a true moral response to the crisis of our common home.”
Cardinal Czerny recognized that his alma mater was one of the first universities to sign on to the “Laudato si Action Platform,” and challenged the Gonzaga community to join the work to help lead the way to the serious dialogue and better brand of politics that are, he said, “the only way out” of the climate crisis. [Source: Gonzaga University]
Watch Cardinal Czerny’s lecture: