Independence or Interdependence?

Written on: July 6, 2015

The Vision Statement of my Catholic religious community, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, reads, “We are called to strengthen our interdependence with each other, the vulnerable, and all of creation by living our legacy of universal compassion, promoting justice, and nurturing all of life with reverence.”  As we Americans celebrate our 4th of July Independence Day with a week of activities and history and fun, we need to reflect on what it means to be both independent and interdependent.   We declared our independence from England more than 200 years ago, but stood our ground together against tyranny.  It was not easy to agree on every aspect of the nation’s growth, but we were interdependent with each other, united against a common enemy and on behalf of a common dream.   Today, we need more than ever to be interdependent not just with each other, but with the entire world.

Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church throughout the world, and currently a rather popular icon, has written a long treatise (called an “encyclical” – a letter to all Catholics and, in fact, to the whole world) that has quite a few references to our interdependence with each other, the vulnerable, and all of creation.  Although it is more than a hundred pages long, many Catholic and non-Catholics will be reading it and referring to it.  Many who will attend the climate talks in Paris at the end of the year will use it as the diversity of representatives from all over the world struggle to come to agreements with each other.  Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si,” the first encyclical to focus on the environment in the history of the Catholic Church, insists on the linkage between justice for the most vulnerable people in the world and justice for the vulnerable planet we call home, Earth.  “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” Francis is not alone in speaking out about interdependence and the environment.   More than three hundred Jewish rabbis have signed on to a statement on the environment that insists, as does Pope Francis, that we all share the responsibility to advocate and act, individually and collectively, on behalf of the “poor earth”.

I had the privilege this past weekend of meeting with about twenty of my Grey Nun Sisters and Associates to reflect together on issues related to climate change.   We shared our fears regarding the devastation already being caused by climate change as well as our faith about the “ecological conversion” to which we are all called.   We spent time reviewing and discussing parts of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, which does not mince words about the enormity of the challenge we are facing, but also emphasizes hope for change, hope for a better future.  He writes, “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”

There are those who are critical of Pope Francis’ encyclical, claiming that the Church should not enter into the scientific realm, but stay with the spiritual alone.  Francis is clear about the Church’s role, however, stating,  “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.  But I want to encourage an honest and open debate, so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good”.

I have not yet read the entire encyclical “Laudato Si” but I shall.  My community’s vision statement and Francis’ letter to Catholics and the whole world seem to resonate. May we, indeed, as Pope Francis urges, “regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world.”  Happy Independence Day and Happy Interdependence!


Sister Eileen White, GNSH is a frequent contributor to our blog and coordinates the writers of From a Faith Perspective which appears in the Bucks County Courier Times. We thank them for allowing us to publish her work here.

In her ministry at Dawn’s Place, a home for victims of human trafficking, Sister Eileen experiences first-hand the social crises of our time and the gift of our interdependence on one another. Read more about the stance taken by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart on caring for the Earth here.

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