Last week I attended a mass at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. It was a Filipino / English mass, attended mostly by Filipinos and from the looks of it only a few non-Filipinos were there in solidarity. They conducted a beautiful ritual in remembrance of the lives lost through the tragedy.
There is so much devastation from the typhoon. More than a million houses have been obliterated and destroyed; 5,560 people have perished and 1,757 more are missing. At least 14 million people have been affected, including 1.8 million displaced children. Many Filipino islands have disappeared off the map.
It's bad enough the storm hit the country and affected residents so deeply. It has destroyed so many lives and livelihoods and will take years for the country to recover. But the tragedy is that this has not been an isolated incident. Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and so many other disasters in recent history are signs of climate change deeply impacting the world. Natural disasters such as this have been occurring more and more frequently. And they have been unjustly impacting people in poverty - regardless of the country or city impacted, those in poverty are always the ones who suffer the greatest when disaster strikes. As Onleilove Alston points out in this Sojourners article, "climate change is a poverty issue, a race issue, and an immigration issue." To not recognize this is to not recognize the interconnectedness of all things and the importance of establishing a right relationship with all of creation.
While the U.S. and other industrialized countries are the most to blame for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, it's also U.S. policies that are threatening the livelihoods of peasants and poor people worldwide. Disruptions to the ecosystem, corporate land grabs, and dumping of U.S. crops as "food aid" are all factors leading farmers to necessitate abandoning their ways of life.
And then it's again U.S. policies that are challenging people's ability to immigrate to the U.S.. This is depicted clearly in the film The Other Side of Immigration:
We are so close right now to reforming immigration policies, but a bill that would do just this is stalled in Congress. "Every day the House leadership stalls on a vote for immigration reform, families and communities suffer the impact of deportations, deaths on the border, exploitation at work and the fear of living in the shadows with no path to citizenship." While the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration bill (S.744) in June, the House has still not brought the issue to the floor for a vote. There have been people fasting for comprehensive immigration reform since November 12th in the hopes of moving the hearts of House Republicans to vote on this one issue that is affecting 11 million aspiring Americans. These people are showing the strength and determination of the human spirit in immensely humbling ways. Even over Thanksgiving have there been people in the tent fasting while others feast, some sharing their reflections with us including Rhett Engelking from the Franciscan Action Network ("Fasting on Thanksgiving for Immigration Reform") and Lisa Sharon Harper from Sojourners ("Fast for Families: Day 18").
Let's pray and fast in solidarity that the House does not delay this vote on immigration reform any longer. Consider joining Franciscans worldwide in a water-only fast on December 3rd. And then, let's work for climate justice to prevent the root causes of so much worldwide devastation so that people can live peacefully and productively in harmony with creation. Together we must stand in solidarity and take action for our brothers and sisters who suffer unnecessarily from unjust policies at the hand of our government. The human spirit is strong, but think about how much more beautiful it is when we work together as one unified body.