Pope Francis goes all out with his new Encyclical, which adds on to the already established Catholic Social Teaching as it looks at the promotion of solidarity, stewardship and the common good, as well as the preferential attention to the poor and preserving human dignity. This is the first Encyclical devoted to nature and it seems fitting that it comes from Francis.
Laudato si begins with a quotation from the Canticle of Sun by Francis of Assisi, “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us…”. This is a different way at looking at the world than most of us do for we have forgotten that we are dust from the Earth. Pope Francis reminds us that we are made from the elements of the earth and are sustained by the earth. Francis then shifts and goes through a history of what previous Popes have said about the future. This begin 50 years, with Saint John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris this message is meant for everyone who lives on earth and expressed a desire for an end to war and offered a proposal for peace. Blessed Paul VI was the first to really talk about the environment in any significant way saying to the UN that there is an “urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity” for if there isn’t any authentic social and moral progress to accompany the economic, technological and scientific growth it is all meaningless.
This continues with John Paul II who called for a global ecological conversion and he said that little effort had been made to make a human ecology, since human development has a moral element to it John Paul synthesizes it into “the Human ability to transform must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.” Even Benedict XVI observed that the book of nature is one and indivisible and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations and other things like that. So that we can see the destruction of the environment just by looking at our society as a whole as both the natural and social environment have been damaged. Benedict suggest that this is because may of us no longer recognize a higher existence other then ourselves. Francis then looks at the other lung of the Church Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has said that “we are all called to acknowledge our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. Bartholomew draws attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of the environmental problems similar to what Benedict was saying but in an easier way. Bartholomew suggest it is “a way of loving, of moving gradually from what I want to what God wants”. Francis then looks towards the great Saint whom it seems everyone like Francis of Assisi. The mystic, prophet, pilgrim who simply cared for all that exists, calling creatures no matter their size brother or sister. Pope Francis ends this section by suggesting that the world shouldn’t be a problem to be solved but seen as a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
Pope Francis then finally begins talking about what this Encyclical is all about. Francis begins by saying that The Creator doesn’t give up on us and asks that we begin a conversation about our common home. For many of the efforts that we’ve tried to solve the environmental problems have been ineffective since the general public doesn’t care about it. Then he goes on to talk about how he will be focusing on similar questions in each of the following chapters.
The first chapter looks at what is happening to our common home. Pope Francis starts by suggesting that the rapid course of life today and all the changes that take place so rapidly are a cause for concern since it is not necessarily geared to the common good or integral to human development. The first section is about pollution. It comes in many forms and technology is sometimes called to solve the problems caused by pollution but often times solve a problem but cause a new problem. The earth is our home and is beginning to look like a pile of filth, this is often due to the large trash problems and the fact that we are all basically living on top of one another and many complain about the lack of nature in the world is one of the biggest problems. Climate and nature are a common resource which shouldn’t be owned by anyone or gated to keep people out. Climate change is a big problem that we need to work on to fix, Francis says that there have been some efforts made to solve some of the problems but they are not all that effective. The focus then shifts to water access and how everyone should have access to drinkable water. Then we need to address the lack of biodiversity in the world. Most of this stuff is common sense as to what the problems that we face are.
The second chapter looks at the Gospel of Creation. Yes, this is the religion section but a religion or really set of beliefs should have a place in all of our lives. Some of the highlights of this section are as follows. We begin with this powerful statement from Benedict XVI “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us in necessary.” often times some of us can think that we are of no consequence and no one cares who we are or what we do. In this section Pope Francis goes back to the Canticle of the Sun and reflects on it once again says that God is reflected in all of creation, therefore we should care for them as well.
I will get to the rest of this in a couple of days. One of the most interesting things about this encyclical is that there is a bunch of quoting from bishop’s conferences or groups of bishop conferences, this is a huge change from previous encyclicals as they mostly quoted from other Papal documents. So this is an important message from the Pope as perhaps there will be more interest in thing that are done regionally by national conferences and let people living in that nation with more local issues read their own bishop’s responses to these problems.