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INTEGRAL ECOLOGY: Jubilee for the Earth?

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews) — This year’s celebration of the Season of Creation focuses on the theme “Jubilee for the Earth.” Etymologically, jubilee is derived from the Greek yobel, which refers to ram’s horn that people use to announce an event. Its Latin term jubilus means “the joyous cry of the shepherds.” Taken together, jubilee for the Earth invites us to joyfully celebrate this year as a special moment of God’s grace.

Honestly, inviting everyone to reflect on this year’s theme of Season of Creation appears ironic to me. It seems that we have more reasons to be desperate than joyful this year if we turn our gaze to the negative realities around us. As the American analyst Noam Chomsky pessimistically pointed out, we are not only experiencing the attack of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also facing two other immense threats: “one is the ever-growing threat of nuclear war, exacerbated by the tension of the military regimes; and the other, of course, is global warming.”[1] So how can we meaningfully celebrate the jubilee for the Earth in a desperate situation?

In one of his talks, the famous Jesuit Filipino Bible scholar Rene “Pops” Repole clearly explained that the concept of jubilee in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 25) includes “the acts associated with … remission of debts, return of property/land, liberation of slaves, etc.” Fr. Pops contended that the New Testament (see Lk 4:18-19) picks this up as Jesus Christ announces his messianic “message of forgiveness, liberation, [and] redemption [which] is embedded in his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God.” This biblical notion of jubilee needs to be highlighted in order to have a meaningful celebration of the Season of Creation.

Remission of Debt

Let me highlight the “remission of debt” as an important aspect of celebrating the jubilee. In this Sunday’s (September 13) gospel reading, St. Matthew narrates to us the parable of “a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When [the king] began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. … Moved with compassion the [king] … let him go and forgave him the loan” (Matt 18:21-35).

This parable reminds us that we are all debtors before God who is willing to cancel our debts out of mercy. Debt is normally used as a biblical image of sin. For instance, Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer says: “forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us…” (Lk 11:4). An accumulated debt, like sin, can grow to a huge amount until the debtor is no longer capable of paying it. When that happens, the debtor’s only hope is to beg the creditor to cancel it.

Economic Debt

It has been reported that the Philippine government’s foreign debt, as of end of June 2020, amounted to 9.05 trillion pesos. Accordingly, if we want to pay this huge amount now, each of the 108.7 million Filipinos must shell out 83,239 pesos. Obviously, it is impossible at this time for the Philippines, either individually or collectively, to pay this huge amount. It is also morally unacceptable to require our destitute country to pay our debt if it could exacerbate poverty.

In exchange of monetary loans, our creditors could easily take advantage of our poverty by voraciously exploiting our human and natural resources. As Pope Francis pointed out, “The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them” (Laudato Si’ [LS] 52). Oftentimes, debtors are at the mercy of their creditors.

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