Today, the Holy See officially presented Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On the Care for Our Common Home. The encyclical was discussed at a press conference held at the New Synod Hall at the Vatican.
Among those present were Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamo, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church; Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; Professor Carolyn Woo, CEO and President of Catholic Relief Services; and Valeria Marana, a teacher in the outlying areas of Rome.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, began by noting the amount of attention that the encyclical has generated worldwide. “I have seen countless documents published but very rarely have I seen such a broad and global wait for a document,” he said.
While acknowledging that the subject of ecology was “thoroughly pondered” by the Holy Father, it was also an issue that he did not consider alone, he said.
“For about a month now, thanks to modern technological communications, the Pope has been preparing the promulgation by sending materials to bishops.” Prior to publishing, the Pope also sent a final draft to the bishops along with a handwritten message.
“Dear brother,” the Pope wrote, “in the bond of unity, charity and peace in which we live as Bishops, I send my letter Laudato Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home, accompanied by my blessing. United in the Lord, and please do not forget to pray for me.”
“On this day, we feel that the Universal Church is united to the Pope and conveying to the world a message of responsibility,” Fr. Lombardi noted.
A crucial challenge
In his address, Cardinal Turkson noted that the presence of the various presenters is a reminder that the Pope’s encyclical “brings into dialogue all people, organizations and institutions that share this same concern.”
“This type of dialogue was also employed as the method of preparation that the Holy Father embraced in the writing of the Encyclical. He relied on a wide range of contributions,” he said.
“Some, in particular those from many Episcopal Conferences from all the continents, are mentioned in the footnotes. Others who participated in the various phases of this work all the way to the complex final phases of translation and publication, remain unnamed.”
The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace went on to say that Laudato Si’ does not set out to intervene in the climate change debate, which he affirmed “was the responsibility of scientists.”
However, given that human activity is one of the factors contributing to climate change, Cardinal Turkson said that the Church has a “serious moral responsibility to do everything in our power to reduce our impact and avoid the negative effects on the environment and on the poor.”
Speaking on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church, Metropolitan John Zizioulas praised the publishing of the new encyclical. He also expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis for drawing attention to “protect God’s creation from the damage we humans inflict on it with our behavior towards nature.”
He also said that Laudato Si’ is not only limited to the subject of ecology, but also has an important “ecumenical dimension” that unites all Christians in a common task.
“Pope Francis’ encyclical is a call to unity – unity in prayer for the environment, in the same Gospel of creation, in the conversion of our hearts and our lifestyles to respect and love everyone and everything given to us by God.
Faith and Reason
In his presentation, Professor Schellnhuber noted the uniqueness of Laudato Si’, stating that the encyclical “brings together two strong forces in the world: faith and reason.”
The current crisis, he said, “is [not only] an environmental crisis but it’s also a social crisis. And these two things together pose a tremendous challenge and only if faith and reason work together, hand in hand, we can overcome this crisis.”
He also said that while the climate has changed throughout the centuries, the change occurring now is different from what the earth has experienced in the past. Professor Schellnhuber went on to present the increase in carbon emissions in the world starting from the Industrial Age to the present.
Presenting a surprising statistic that the 60 wealthiest people on earth have the same amount of wealth as 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest population, Professor Schellnhuber discounted the belief that the increased population of the world, especially in poor countries, is the cause of environmental problems.
“This is utterly wrong,” he exclaimed. The director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research showed that in fact those with high incomes contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions, while the poor have not.
“It’s not poverty that destroys the environment. It is wealth, consumption and waste. And this is reflected in the encyclical,” he said.