Franciscan brother Benedict Ayodi is one of the founders of the Laudato Si’ Movement. His mission in Kenya is to inspire people to join the cause of the environment.
Brother Benedict Ayodi is a Capuchin friar who, for some 20 years, has been living his vocation by inspiring young people and adults, religious and lay people, to care for nature and for the most vulnerable people who inhabit “Our Common Home”, and who are increasingly victims of clinic change.
Currently, Brother Ben, as his friends call him, works between Kenya (one of the countries in the world with the largest number of Franciscans) and New York, engaging in project implementation with JPIC (the General Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation), Franciscan International, the United Nations, and the Laudato Si’ Movement.
Kenya and the United States: two very different countries that allowed him, in their myriad contrasts, to better hear and understand “the cry of Creation and of the poor.”
“I grew up in Kenya,” says Brother Ben, “and I touched with my own hands the importance that the forest has in this land, with the wildlife around us, with the waterways, with the resources that can feed everyone without exploitation, only with intelligent ways. I think this is what pushed me to unite myself to the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.”
Working with Franciscan International to ensure the protection of human dignity and environmental justice within the framework established by the UN, Brother Benedict says, “There are many people who are suffering in the world, and this space allows us to speak to political leaders, gives us a forum for direct, face-to-face dialogue that we don’t want to give up, because it is especially in this context that we can support people and try to reestablish the alliance with the environment. It is not possible that some people have disproportionate food and others have to clear forests to get it. We have to come to an agreement, to find a way; and world leaders know this but there are still many, too many, political and economic interests at stake.”
Br. Benedict was part of the committee that founded the Laudati Si’ Movement. “Only the Holy Spirit made it possible for us to make it ” he says. “We have seen the transformation that has taken place in such a short time. All continents are involved, men and women – not only Christian but [people] from other religions who have decided to roll up their sleeves. Through our Movement certainly we have rekindled the faith of many young Catholics who had drifted away from the Church and who have come back to believe and hope that they can be agents of change. We have achieved this effect and that is what I love most. Being part of this Movement is not a job, it is my spirituality,” he confesses.
Brother Ben was the first to bring the Laudato Si’ Movement to Africa, which to date already numbers 20 Chapters-Communities of Laudato Si’ Animators – which, translated into the number of people involved, amounts to 2,480 animators (both English and French speaking).
“The Laudato Si’ Movement offers a structure to help us promote our mission and act for this transformation. Chapters help bring together and inspire more people and organizations through prayer and action,” explains Brother Ben.
Brother Ben grinds out kilometres every day and meets hundreds of people, to form lay and religious communities, especially through the Laudato Si’ Animators Program. His work has already met with notable successes, such as convincing Catholic institutions to divest from fossil fuels, and organizing the renowned global campaign #StopEACOP in East Africa to stop the construction of an oil pipeline that was to run through Uganda and Tanzania, damaging nature and the lives of the inhabitants.
Of the latter, Brother Benedict says, “#StopEACOP lasted four and a half years, and they were years of battle, struggles, defeats, and victories in which people, instead of backing down, decided to give it their all. This campaign was organized and carried out by young Africans who had taken the Animators Laudato Si’ course! Other organizations joined the campaign over the months, and we managed to get the Church to join in as well, and even [got] the European Union to stop funding that project. Their work in social networks was crucial, but the most amazing thing was, indeed is, the strength and enthusiasm of the young people. Here there is a Church that is young and alive.”
Brother Benedict describes the Laudato Si’ Animators Program as “ideal for helping young people and adults understand and fully live Pope Francis’ encyclical.”
He explains, “Anyone can follow [the Program] and it is available in 7 languages. But it is above all a space to get to know each other, to dialogue, and to unite. St. Francis not only wanted to bring us together in the same project, but also to live spirituality, our relationship with God, with others and with Creation, in community. Without community, there are no roads to travel or projects to accomplish; all brothers and sisters [‘fratelli tutti’] are needed.
“During the ‘Season for Creation,’ for example, with the Animators of the various circles and chapters, we went to bless the wild animals in Nairobi National Park, a Franciscan tradition that demonstrates our spirituality in loving the environment as a gift from God; it was a beautiful moment of reconciliation between man and the earth, of connection, but also of gratitude for all that the Father has given us.”
“We are all interconnected,” Brother Ben concludes, “and we have to live an integral ecology not with words but with deeds. I don’t walk alone, this is my certainty, I walk with other comrades from the Laudato Si’ Movement and other organizations.”