We have crisis stacked upon crisis right now: a pandemic, recession, and eviction crisis; a homeland on fire or flooded, exacerbated by climate change; and a reckoning on racial injustice. When I look back, I see a long journey to this point. Fifty years ago, I participated in the very first Earth Day. Thirty years ago, I was involved in starting a housing program here in Davenport for people in precarious situations. In 1987, I participated in a march to end homelessness in ten years. The good news is that we can come out of this stronger—if we rid ourselves of us vs. them thinking and recognize we are in this together. To adjust Frankline Delano Roosevelt’s famous phrase: The only thing we have to fear is fear of one another.
I am a religious sister and president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary based in Davenport. My long experience in this community has taught me that everything, and everyone, is connected. The pandemic has made us more aware of our dependence on the people who process food, deliver groceries, collect trash, and provide health care. On a personal level, when I visited my 100-year-old mother in the nursing home I was made acutely cognizant of our interdependence—I could see her only through the window, but I knew how many individuals’ efforts went into keeping her well and enabling our visit. I recognize how vital it is for us to show up for one another with love and support. As Pope Francis said, “If there's one thing we've been able to learn in all this time, it’s that no one is saved alone… An emergency like COVID-19 is defeated in the first place with the antibodies of solidarity.”
Our eyes have also been opened to those who are impacted most by any crisis: people of color, the marginalized, the poor. Vulnerable people are still being evicted in an unseen housing crisis. And, though climate change impacts all of us, the disproportionate victims of climate disruption are the poor and disenfranchised, those who cannot afford to flee or rebuild when disaster strikes. St. Pope John Paul II said, “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone.” We cannot let our actions and our treatment of the Earth exclude our fellow human beings from God’s gift.
We have a moral duty to be prepared for epidemics, whether they are epidemics of disease, ecological crisis, or racial injustice. I see a troubling parallel with how our country has responded to the coronavirus with how we have treated our common home. We had advance warning of the virus from experts. We had the visceral example of the death and suffering it caused in other countries before it spread widely in America. We did not listen, so death and suffering spread across the people here, too.
We have similar advance warning of climate change: the experts have been clear for decades and we are seeing worsening disasters in keeping with their projections. The floods are higher, the hurricanes are fiercer, the droughts are drier, and the wildfires are hotter. We seem to prioritize our temporary aversion to change over our long-term safety and wellness. But there is hope: committees in the House and Senate created action plans this summer to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and create millions of jobs in clean energy and efficiency. We know what climate disruption is doing, and we have solid plans. We just need to decide together that preparation now is a worthy trade vs. ever-increasing pain.
My faith tells me God has bound us together as one human family. I am hopeful we are actually living into that reality—slowly, and unevenly, but it is happening. We have been under an illusion that we are isolated individuals, but the pandemic and climate change are shattering that illusion. Pope Francis, in his major Church document on ecology called Laudato Si, said, “there has been a growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.”
When we live as a single human family and follow our moral duty to be prepared, we can get through any crisis together.
Sister Mary Ann Vogel, CHM, is president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary based in Davenport, Iowa.