Pope Francis: Laudato Si'

“The Lord God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2:15).

The first verse of sacred scripture that describes the work of man and the meaning of his presence on Earth offers two guiding verbs: “cultivate” (in Hebrew ‘avad) and “care” (šâmar). These two actions are the inspiration and founding principle of the Living Chapel This chapel is not built from bricks and cement, but cultivated; due to its fragility, it will not need maintenance, but careful tending. Rather than serving as a place to celebrate sacraments, the Living Chapel reminds human society of the original commandment regarding God’s creation by materializing the spiritual protocol of Laudato Si’: Seeing, Judging and Acting.

Pilgrims to the living chapel “see” with all their senses in a space that harmonizes many elements of the “song of creation.” The inner chapel is enclosed by green walls which give it the dimensions and tranquility of the Porziuncola of Assisi, and leave the space open to the sky to encourage prayer and contemplation from a perspective of unity with creation. The visual harmony of the space is complemented by melodies generated by water and wind, and the perfume of plants and flowers, as well as the touch of the breeze that is favoured by the architecture.

The path leading to the inner chapel invites pilgrims to “judge” their relationship with the Earth; the green walls open wide to draw the whole square into a spiritual journey toward acknowledging the many conflicts that sin has placed between humanity and the rest of God’s creation. Visual elements, installations, the tears of creation, and birdsong from sites of environmental devastation give voice to the “cry of the earth” and the “cry of the poor.” Whoever enters this space will be called to join in courageous prayer on behalf of the most vulnerable. The call to “act” is extended at the exit of the chapel. Integral and concrete ecological conversion can only be realized when the “song” and the “cry” of creation beat like systole and diastole in the heart. Thus also in the Living Chapel, only after having genuinely experienced beauty and pain can one accept the invitation to “care for our common home.” The living chapel invites us to reconcile ourselves with creator and creation in all their complexity, and respond to the original commandment. In this final space, actionable examples of custodial engagement with Creation are shared through installations, with an invitation to concretely participate.

The Chapel is “Living,” and seeks to express this Life through the elements of Creation. Just as Saint Francis describes in the Canticle to Creation, air, water, and earth are present as brothers and sisters, who “sing” to the pilgrims. Brother wind whispers continuously through the portholes of the green walls; sister water, dripping from above onto recycled oil barrels, plays a specially composed melody; Mother Earth fills the barrels at the base of the green walls and feeds the growth of the plants.

Breathing life into the call to See, Judge and Act, the resounding message of the Living Chapel is a call to Hope.

The Living Chapel is not intended to be an episodic event, limited to three weeks of celebration for the anniversary of Laudato Si’. Because it is a stimulus for an ongoing process, the chapel’s “life” will be regenerative and manifested beyond Piazza San Pietro in Rome. Before its proposed debut in Rome, the chapel will be “cultivated” in a site near Rome. After its proposed stay in Saint Peter’s Square, the 10,000 saplings that spring from the living walls will be distributed and planted in new homes. The Living Chapel will be brought back to Assisi and included in the “Laudato Si’ Path” proposed by the Global Catholic Climate Movement to connect the Franciscan sites in light of the Canticle of Creatures and the Encyclical Laudato Si’, to instill concrete and integral ecological conversion in the pilgrims who pass through the city of the Poverello.

Breathing life into the call to See, Judge and Act, the resounding message of the Living Chapel is a call to Hope. “The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge.” As it grows and changes, the Living Chapel will open up new ways of praying in harmony with God’s creation. Experiencing that harmony will deepen our shared sense of responsibility to ‘avad and šâmar, inspiring all who enter to “come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. Let us sing as we go. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present.”

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