I was preaching a retreat to my community in Pittsburgh all last week. My community, the Passionists, was founded 300 years ago in Italy by St. Paul of the Cross– before the United States. And last week we were thanking God for those 300 years.
During the retreat we were reflecting on three questions. Where are we in this world of ours? Where are we in this church of ours? And where are we in this community of ours. Big questions.
I went to Pittsburgh and came back by train. A 9 hour trip. You can do a number of things on a 9 hour trip, read a book or look at your iPad, close your eyes and sleep, talk to someone next to you, or look out the window. I spent most of the time looking out the window.
You see a lot of our history on that route looking out the window. The train from New York to Pittsburgh follows the old roads, that follow the rivers and the old Indian trails that were the first pathways westward through our country. At Trenton, you go over the Delaware River, that George Washington crossed, Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence was signed, You pass through the beautiful farmlands in the Lehigh Valley, then climb into the mountains after Harrisburg till you get to Pittsburgh.
We live in a beautiful country.
But you can also see challenges our country’s facing as you look out the train window. The rivers are still beautiful, but some, like the Passaic, the Hackensack, parts of the Susquehanna, Juanita, Ohio and Monongahela are spoiled from human waste. Some of the beautiful mountains are gashed from abandoned strip mines.
From the railroad you can also see parts of our country that aren’t doing well either Abandoned factories and steel mills and empty stores are frequent sights along the railroad tracks, especially as you pass through cities like Altona and Johnstown and Greensburg and on the outskirts of Pittsburgh itself. A gigantic empty factory stands near the train station at Johnstown. How many people did that put our of work?
I was thinking at the end of my trip, “Wouldn’t it be good if all those involved in our national political campaign would ride the train from New York to Pittsburgh and tell what they see from the window and what they would do.
Last week Pope Francis delivered his response to a meeting on the Amazon region that he called recently, “Querida Amazonia”. He’s looking out the window. The Amazon region is “a multinational and interconnected whole, a great biome shared by nine countries:” During the meeting the question about married priests and the ordination of women came up, but the pope obviously didn’t want to address these questions at this time. He wants to emphasize the care of the environment and care of the people who live in the Amazon.
The issues facing the Amazon are issues facing the whole world, the pope says. Before him, Pope Benedict condemned “the devastation of the environment and the Amazon basin, and the threats against the human dignity of the peoples living in that region”. Francis is passionate about the Amazon.
“The equilibrium of our planet also depends on the health of the Amazon region. Together with the biome of the Congo and Borneo, it contains a dazzling diversity of woodlands on which rain cycles, climate balance, and a great variety of living beings also depend. It serves as a great filter of carbon dioxide, which helps avoid the warming of the earth.” (48)
Powerful industries are exploiting the area, looking at it as a resource instead of a home, the pope says, but the interest of a few powerful industries should not be considered more important than the good of the Amazon region and of humanity as a whole.
The pope keeps calling the church and the world itself to “an ecological conversion”, but we’re slow to grasp what’s happening. We seem to think technology will save us; and we don’t like changing our lives.
Obviously, the pope’s looking out the window at the world. So should we.