Pope Francis’ letter written in 2016  on care for the environment Laudato Si has become a ‘classic’ and is full of beautiful insights that all of us who see ourselves as people concerned about the environment need to seriously reflect on.

Among the many proposals that one finds in Laudato Si the one about imitating St. Francis of Assisi direction to his brothers about leaving a small “part of the friary garden always … untouched, so that wildflowers and herbs could grow there and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the creator of such beauty” is particularly worth taking note of.

We speak a lot these days about creating ‘green campuses’ in our schools and colleges and by this we mean promoting practices and lifestyles that are environmentally friendly and inculcating in the students and teachers habits that will enable all of us to live in harmony and in a spirit of appreciation with the natural world. This ideal is lofty but with our increasing tendency to seek ways and means to make our lives more and more comfortable we end up sanitising our campuses and treating the environment as something that we need to defend ourselves from. We begin to relate with nature but purely on our terms. As a result, practically every inch of our campuses end up being cemented or covered up by paver blocks, playgrounds are replaced by turf courts, trees are first trimmed and then cut because they represent a danger to the safety of the students [which in fact they sometimes are] and we allow nature into our campuses purely on our terms, only in the form of exotic plants carefully planted in ‘Kundi Pots’ [baked mud pots].

Perhaps in most schools and colleges of our city we do not have much of an option given how much space is at a premium today. But in those schools and colleges where there is some space available it would be a courageous and at the same time very sensible thing to do to cordon off a small part of the campus [in some corner] and let it grow untouched by human shears, unpruned by lawn-movers, and untrodden by human feet. If we did that, we would witness to miracles happening. There is nothing as exhilarating as witnessing the little birds sing, the squirrels scampering up and down trees and playing joyfully without a care in the world, the butterflies gliding over wild bushes, the dragon flies hovering over lotuses in a pond, witnessing the little wildflowers bloom and breathing in the fresh untainted air. That would make real communion with nature a reality and would nourish the mind and hearts of our students and teachers in a way that even the most profound lectures of ecology and care of the environment would not.

Those of us who do not have the privilege of having campuses where space is available, must take it upon ourselves to grow in communion with nature. Schools must take students out to gardens and parks to spend time in the lap of nature – listening, seeing, observing, enjoying, playing, sitting quietly, painting, cleaning up when there is need to, planting, or just walking around with bare feet. Students too need to take the initiative and join together on holidays or after school hours to go out to a park or garden and spend time together both with their friends and with nature. Formal classrooms, well prepared books and good committed teachers do make for good education; but without the wisdom that nature provides our development as well integrated human beings will always remain incomplete

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