When you think about the Vatican, great filmmaking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But a documentary released by the Vatican on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4, is a must-see for all of us. It should be advertised in every parish bulletin, mentioned from every altar, shown to every youth group and be part of Catholic school curricula.
“The Letter: A Message For Our Earth” is directed by award-winning filmmaker Nicolas Brown, and filmed around the world.
It’s about climate change and the challenges facing our earth, but it’s interwoven with the personal stories of five main characters, mostly young activists who have traveled to Rome to share their stories with Pope Francis and engage in dialogue with him.
And their stories will touch you. You are shown the dry, cracked earth of drought-stricken Senegal, and meet Arouna Kandé, a young man from Senegal who has become a climate refugee and is now studying sustainable development. The film reminds us that more than 1 billion people are estimated to become climate refugees by 2050.
There is a lovely young woman from India, and a tribesman from the Brazilian Amazon. Their personal stories are matched with scenes of climate disruption around the globe.
In 2015, Pope Francis issued the encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” It was a wake-up call and garnered attention. Yet, honestly, how many Catholics actually read an entire encyclical?
But this film puts a human face on a problem that belongs to all of us and will be watched by millions. On the day it was released, it was also put on YouTube for free viewing worldwide.
Did you know that in 2019-2020, an area roughly the size of England burned in Australia?
Do you know the extent of the crisis in the Amazonian rainforest, what scientists have called the “lungs of the earth,” where greed and mismanagement threaten destruction?
Did you know that corals are called “the rainforest of the sea” and that 25% of all marine life depends on coral reefs at some point in their life cycle? And yet hotter waters are threatening corals’ existence.
At this point, it’s tempting to feel overwhelmed by the issue. We’re tempted to turn away.
But the humanity of this film and the people in it make you want to look. The soft voice of Pope Francis chatting with the young people, the conversations of the visitors themselves, bathed in the light of a campfire as they share their stories while on a visit to Assisi — this gives you a sense of hope, a desire to do something.
“Once you know, you cannot look away,” says Lorna Gold, a scientist in the film who works with the worldwide Laudato Si’ Movement and who has an irrepressible smile and a soft Scottish accent.
Pope Francis wrapped this documentary around his favorite themes — the poor and marginalized, Indigenous people, youth and nature itself. He wants us to question what we think of as “progress,” and how we place economic growth before the good of all.
This film is a call to action, and once you watch it, you can’t help but ask, how can I help? What attitudes toward consumption, food waste, plastic use, can I change? There are so many ways one person or one family can make a difference.
Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan once wrote, “One cannot level one’s moral lance at every evil in the universe. … But you can do something, and the difference between doing something and doing nothing is everything.”