While controversy and debate swirl around Pope Francis’ revolutionary encyclical, Laudato Si, what strikes us most is his subtle but profound insight into the “Care For Our Common Home.” Yes, our shared home is our planet, our cities, neighborhoods and homes. But it also resides within our hearts. Our common home is more than the environment alone, it is our shared humanity. Environment and humanity are so intertwined they exist as one. That it is the very union of society and environment, both natural and built, which constitutes our common home.
Throughout his encyclical Francis stresses that how we treat our common home must change if we are to live our lives with grace. He calls on us to reject what he calls our “throwaway culture” where not just unwanted things, but unwanted people – the poor and the disenfranchised – are treated as waste. He challenges us to build a worldwide culture of stewardship that will repair the abuses inflicted on our earth and on our humanity.
In no other place is this interdependence of people and environment more apparent than in our cities – microcosms of our common home. How we have treated them and the people they contain is, according to Francis, much how we have treated our world. In the second-half of the 20th century we threw our cities away. We saw them as dirty, used up and spiritually bankrupt. We largely abandoned our cities and left them to the poor and the disenfranchised, battlegrounds to be contained.
Thankfully, times change. Today we are remaking our cities into places of innovation, opportunity and participatory democracy – into places of connection. People are rediscovering the joy of interconnection found through sense of place – dense, walkable and sustainable neighborhoods, local shops and goods, festivals and farmers markets, inclusive churches – that are in many ways beginning to fulfill what Francis calls us to do.
To echo Robert Frost, “we have miles to go before we sleep.” And continue the journey we will. Leadership Foundations sees the shift back to cities as an opportunity and a challenge. How can we tap into the newfound urbanism happening in neighborhoods that are more characterized as playgrounds and spark healing and renewal in areas too often seen as battlegrounds? How, at the civic level, can we answer Francis’ call to become better stewards?
Our answer is inspired by exactly that quality of interconnectedness the Pope emphasizes. Grace is inherent in all of us. Most of us want to help others; want a peaceful and meaningful society. Since Sam Shoemaker first rallied leaders in Pittsburgh, local leadership foundations across the land have focused on bringing people of goodwill together so that we may bridge the gap between those who have and those who do not.
LF takes inspiration from the Pope’s challenge while we take heart in our part of meeting it. As we reflect on our responsibility to the environment we see local leadership foundations taking up the task. In response to issues of food scarcity among the poor and marginalized, Urban Ventures runs an urban and a country farm, two greenhouses, and two apiaries. The produce grown is sold at an affordable price at their mobile farmers market in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh food. Additionally, Urban Ventures provides healthy cooking classes for families across Minneapolis and employment opportunities for local youth and women. They see access to healthy, sustainable food and meaningful employment as a way to build and strengthen thriving communities in their city. Stewardship of resources, yes, but also a sum of activity that results in thousands of connections made between neighbors. Farms and food driving community.
Francis reminds us that all are worthy; the poor are as valid as the rich. And we know that it is the connections we make between the two and with each other that drive change. Connections grow into relationships. Relationships yield understanding and insight. Understanding and insight are the very foundation of social and spiritual progress.