The Letter: A message for our Earth
On the 9th of December, JRS Singapore and the Green Movement Ministry organized a screening of “The Letter” — a poignant film which highlights the escalating and devastating impact of climate change on communities around the world. Terese Teoh, youth environmental advocate and parishioner of the Church of St Ignatius shares her reflection after viewing the film.
Last month, the film ‘The Letter’ was screened in our church. I’d heard that it was inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si, so I was expecting something biblical and theological. After all, it was the first time in history that a Pope was speaking out for the environment. I also wondered what kind of message the film would carry: would it be that run-on-the-mill, simplistic one I had long grown weary of: take some easy steps, save the earth?
But a few minutes into the movie screening and I realised I could not be more wrong. The centering of local perspectives reinforced structural injustice as both a cause and outcome of climate catastrophe. This was a film that had set out to ask difficult questions, and answer them. We met Ridhima Pandey, a 14-year-old environmental activist from India; Arouna Kandé, a climate refugee from Senegal, Cacique Odair “Dadá” Borari, an Indigenous leader of the Borari people in Brazil’s Amazon region. As each individual narrated, we learnt how climate disaster, and the corporate greed driving it, have profoundly uprooted their lives. I will always remember Dada’s words: “Our meeting with the Pope is having big repercussions in our state, in our municipality. It’s on national television. Now, to kill me, they will think twice.” Grief pangs shot through me.
For too long, our society has suppressed the voices of the poor, ignored the cries of the refugees. For too long, the climate crisis has been driven by the rich world, and prioritised the rich world’s voices in dictating how we should go about solving them. For too long, as Arouna put it bluntly, “This is a society that ignores people like me.” By amplifying these diverse human stories, the film boldly pushed against that trend.
Pope Francis spoke about the “economic arrogance” that has landed us in the crisis today, and related this “human arrogance” as but a repeat of unlearnt lessons from the Bible: the story of the tower of Babel. “If a brick fell, the worker who dropped it would be brutally punished. If a worker fell, it would be no big deal. They replaced him and kept working.” And so it is with the present-day capitalist economy addicted to productive outcome at the expense of human well-being. “We’re building a tower of human arrogance with bricks of power, bricks of economy. And to build that, so many people work like slaves. And if a slave falls, nothing happens…If nature falls, nothing happens.”
Such a bare critique of our modern economy from the Pope surprised me, but I was grateful he did not mince his words. In my head, the jigsaw pieces of the puzzle were suddenly sliding into place. Catholic teachings are, and have always been, consistent with principles of climate justice.
All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents. (Laudato Si 14)