The Holy See today published Pope Francis’ highly anticipated encyclical, Laudato Si’: On the Care of the Common Home. The 184-page document addresses the contentious subject of climate change in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The title Laudato Si’, which means “Praise be to you”, is taken from the Canticle of the Sun composed by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1224.
The Holy Father begins his encyclical by noting Saint Francis’ care for the world like a sister and a mother. The Pope states that “this sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”
“We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail,’” he writes.
The Pope goes on to cite the concern of his predecessors – from St. John XXIII to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – regarding peace and environmental deterioration. “These statements of the Popes,” he writes, “echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions.”
He also appealed for a new dialogue on shaping the planet’s future, since the current environmental challenge “and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
Our Common Home and the Gospel of Creation
In the encyclical’s first two chapters, Pope Francis presents scientific findings dealing with the current ecological crisis and reflections on facing those problems in the light of Scripture and Judeo-Christian tradition.
Among the problems highlighted was pollution, a problem he said that must be taken into account given the millions of tons of non-biodegradable, toxic and radioactive waste generated from residential and industrial sources.
“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he writes. “These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.”
Another problem the Jesuit Pope addresses is that of global warming, evidenced by the rise in sea levels and possibly by extreme weather conditions.
“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it,” he states.
He also highlights the lack and quality of water in developing countries. The Pope warns that despite the diminishing amounts of available water, some places tend to privatize it into “a commodity subject to the laws of the market.”
“Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights,” the Pope writes. “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor.”
Other problems he goes on to explain are the loss of biodiversity, the declining quality of human life, global inequality and the lack of an adequate response to the problems facing the environment.
In his second chapter titled The Gospel of Creation, the Pope stated that he is fully aware that there are those who do not believe or dismiss “the right contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity.”
“Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both,” he said.
The 78-year-old Pontiff goes on to cite various views from the Bible, particularly the story of Creation that reminds people of their role in caring for the world.
“The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin,” he writes.
“The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to ‘have dominion’ over the earth, to ‘till it and keep it.’”
The Roots of the Ecological Crisis and Integral Ecology
Chapters 3 and 4 of Laudato Si’ present an analysis of the human origins of the current ecological crisis and the proposal of an “integral ecology.”
“A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this?” he asks. The Pope then goes on to give a reflection on the growth of technology, saying that while it has contributed to improving living conditions, it has also been used in the exploitation of people and the destruction of nature.
“To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system,” he said.
He also calls for an open and sincere debate on genetic modifications saying that, although no conclusive proof exists on whether it is harmful to humans, “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.”
1 complex crisis
In his fourth chapter, the Pope proposes an “integral ecology” as a “new paradigm of justice.” He argues that there are not two separate crises – environmental and social – but rather “one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
“Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature,” he wrote. He also stated that ecology also implies the important relationship between human life and moral law, stating:
“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
Action and Education
Finally, Pope Francis rounds out his encyclical with courses of action to confront the current ecological crisis, saying that analyses are not enough. In his fifth chapter, he stresses the growing need for proposals for dialogue and action that involve everyone.
He also appealed to governments to avoid a mentality of immediacy in order to promote true change in favor of environmental protection and addressing climate change. “A healthy politics is sorely needed, capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and b
ureaucratic inertia,” he wrote.
Concluding his encyclical, Pope Francis highlighted the need for education and training to provoke a change in lifestyle aimed at protecting the environment and the common good.
“We must regain the conviction,” he wrote, “that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
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