Board president reflects on papal encounter

March 18, 2020

“Be maternal, be tender, this is what the world needs.”

These are the words Pope Francis spoke to the GCCM Board of Directors and Staff during our meeting on 27 February 2020. The private audience was an intimate gathering of about 10 people, including Cardinal Tagle, who serves on GCCM’s Episcopal Advisory Board and has been a GCCM champion since our launch during Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines in January 2015.

What was supposed to be a brief, 15-minute meet-and-greet, turned into an hour long conversation about the state of the world, the story of the birth of the encyclical Laudato Si’, and Pope Francis’ own personal eco-conversion journey.

As Board President, it was my humbling honor to open our conversation with Pope Francis, a meeting that was arranged on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of GCCM’s founding and the fifth anniversary of the release of Laudato Si’. I began by introducing myself as a Columban and a mother, noting that these are my life’s reference points (full remarks below).

I continued by sharing that I had received that morning a message from a Columban in Australia, who wrote, “We have begun Lent and we see the small buds emerging from the trees and ashes of the tragic bushfires. They are signs of new life.” I noted that this was a timely message as our audience with Pope Francis was on the second day of Lent and a good metaphor for the birth of GCCM five years earlier.

After Pope Francis invited each person in the room to share, he offered his own reflections that I found most humble and encouraging. First he commented on the maternal and tender work of GCCM, all of its member organizations, and the Church to bring Laudato Si’ to life.

He affirmed that this work of creating, nurturing, connecting, and listening is the work we all share in the care for our common home. And in this maternal care there is a tenderness and compassion that counters the violence, the ashes of our time.

The Holy Father continued by sharing in a beautifully interwoven way the birth of Laudato Si’ and his own personal conversion towards an eco-spirituality. He took us back to Aparecida in 2007 and the drafting of the final document. When reviewing the text, he acknowledged his own doubts about including language that was put forth by the Brazilian bishops about hearing the cry of the Amazon. But in the end he agreed to its inclusion.

He noted that it wasn’t until he “arrived in Rome” that the urgency became clear to him from listening to his advisors, scientists, and theologians. He noted humbly that the development of Laudato Si’ was truly a collaborative work of many people and the result of hearing the cries of the people and the earth.

I was deeply moved and encouraged by the way he allowed himself to be vulnerable to us. It became clear that when he calls us in Laudato Si’ to ongoing ecological conversion, he includes himself in that journey.

On a humorous note, of which there were a few, he noted that, “In our next meeting, the Cardinals will be in Cardinal green instead of Cardinal red.” While lighthearted in tone, I do believe it is an insight into his hope that the Church will find ways in symbol and substance to integrate more deeply a theology, spirituality, liturgy, practices, and pastoral care that is rooted in the common good for all of creation.After everyone had the opportunity to speak from the heart, we concluded by standing in a circle and praying the Our Father – the most unifying and rooting prayer of our faith. In that circle, I held with me my family, friends, and the entire GCCM family.

Finally, after an exchange of gifts, Pope Francis invited us to gather in the private passageway where he enters the reception hall. There, he showed us this stunning tapestry of God giving birth to humanity and all the universe.

He shared that every time he passes the tapestry on his way to enter the hall, he proclaims in his heart, “Laudato Si’!” On that note, we said our goodbyes and offered final prayers and gratitude.

The tapestry that reminds Pope Francis of Laudato Si’.

In the days since our encounter, I continue to reflect on Pope Francis’ message to be maternal and tender, particularly in the context of our GCCM story. I found his words to be a good reminder of the power of tenderness, especially amidst the ashes of our lives and the world.

I pray that throughout this fifth anniversary year and beyond, we will continue to live into the invitation to be maternal and tender, which is another way of expressing the call to deep, transformative love for all of creation.

My full remarks:

Many thanks for welcoming us. We represent the Global Catholic Climate Movement, a network of over 900 member organizations around the world. It is a gift to express to you our gratitude and we place ourselves at your service in God’s mission. I am a Columban missionary and mother of a son and daughter. These are my life’s reference points.

In the early morning today I received a message from our missionaries in Australia. They shared, “We have begun Lent and we see the small buds emerging from the trees and ashes of the tragic bushfires. They are signs of new life.”

GCCM also was born out of the ashes and suffering of the world five years ago and has been nourished since then by Laudato Si’. Inspired by Laudato Si’, we have three dimensions to our mission:

  • Accompany hearts in their journey of ecological conversion
  • Transform lives towards the right relationship with all of creation
  • Lift up voices, the cry of the people, and the cry of the earth – create public space so that they may be heard for structural change

We have seen the world awaken with the message of Laudato Si’ and the joy of the gospel. LS #240 inspires the essential mission we’ve received:

The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.

My companions here can speak more fully to the details of our work.

More than anything we wish, on behalf of the entire GCCM family worldwide, to offer our gratitude and our prayers for you every day. May you be accompanied by God as we too accompany you. Thank you.

By GCCM Board President Amy Woolam Echeverria