President's Letter, Fr. Paul Demuth

In Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical (“letter to the world”) “Laudato Si” or “On Care for our Common Home,” he addressed both faith and secular communities about the interrelatedness of creation and its people. As we conclude Black History Month, we also reflect on the rich interdependence of race, diversity and changing demographics in our own community. This can all be such a heady and abstract subject until we encounter a story that somehow brings it to life.
Photo from Guatemala by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS
I had an opportunity to experience this in my recent trip to Guatemala. I had the chance to see the ancient ruins of the Mayan culture in Tikal as well as mix with today’s Mayan descendants in the town square of Santiago Atitlan. It was a strange feeling to experience the ancient history of the Mayan people who were experts in architecture, who had their own intricate alphabet and mathematical systems and yet whose culture rather rapidly disappeared through drought and poisoning in the 800s (they used massive amounts of water to dissolve limestone so that they could cover their temples with shining white lime; as they worked to do this, they were unintentionally infecting their lungs with lime powder and at the same time poisoning the water supply with the residue). Their leaders were indeed advanced and cultured, but treated the ordinary class of builders and workers with little regard for their dignity and health.

The Mayan descendants — ordinary people who survived through the centuries — today live ordinary lives: working, selling, building, having families, praying and celebrating, dealing with poverty and illness. Today these “native people” still do not have the same advantages as their richer compatriots of Guatemala. Despite the disadvantages they daily experience, I was amazed by how friendly and welcoming they were to us as foreign tourists; even though we probably seemed like giants among the rather short native peoples. 

Being out of the country for even a short time gave me a fresh perspective on how we in the USA and our brothers and sisters elsewhere share this earth as our “common home.” We do a great disservice to ourselves and others when we don’t appreciate and rejoice in the vastness of our universe, the preciousness of creation and the variety of gifts that each people, race and nationality can offer our world and nation. Mutual respect, care for the least among us, and preservation of our environment are all interrelated!