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20 July 2020

Dreaming of a field hospital

I started experiencing my first pandemic in March 2020. While serving seven years in refugee camps and poor countries of the Global South, I never personally knew the ravages of malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, or Ebola. My family was never faced with the frustrating reality of maternal or infant mortality – knowing that treatments are available, but far beyond our reach.

My experience of social distancing from loved ones has not been too grave. Of course, I do not reside in cramped quarters with extended family, nor do I face daily challenges to obtain clean water, enough food and sanitary toilet facilities. My Latin American friends, when I can reach them online, enquire how I’m doing while isolated in my privileged “Disneylandia.”

Perhaps there are similarities between the coronavirus and the climate collapse… the threats to human well-being and livelihoods are both silent and serious, present but preferentially visited upon the poor at home and abroad. We have now come face-to-face with the explanation of what Francis meant by his term “integral ecology,” where “everything is connected” (Laudato Si’ nos. 91 and 117).

To mark the fifth anniversary of the release of Laudato Si’, members of “Joint Ecological Ministries,” led by religious women, drafted a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlining six demands. They are: an end to federal subsidies to fossil fuel industries, a Just Transition Act for affected oil and gas workers, expansion of renewable energy and clean public transportation, implementation of promised Indigenous rights and debt cancellation to allow the poorest nations to address the pandemic as well as the climate emergency. We hoped for 500 signatures in two weeks – but received over 530, as well as over 70 institutional endorsements.

During this pandemic, the Church has left the sanctuaries, perhaps to become more like “the field hospital” of which Francis dreams.

Joe Gunn, Centre Oblat, Ottawa, (ON)

This text is taken from the Summer 2020 issue of the ad vitam webzine “Laudato Si’: Caring for Creation and future generations”.