Caring for our common home

— Laudato Si
Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC
The title of Pope Francis’ new encyclical is Laudato Si ( Praised be). The words are taken from a popular prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was giving thanks to God for “Brother Fire,” “Sister Moon.” and “Mother Earth.”
Rerum novarum and Populorum progressio
Laudato Si is one of the most important documents to come from a Pope in the past one hundred-and-twenty years. It can be compared with two other important encyclicals. The first was Rerum Novarum (New Things), written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. That document criticised the central thesis of liberal capitalism which was that “labour is a commodity to be bought at market prices determined by the laws of supply and demand rather than by the human needs of the workers.” (RN 16-17, 33-34).[1]
In Populorum progressio (On the Development of Peoples), published in 1967, Pope Paul VI wrote about authentic human development which for him went beyond economic development. He considered it “a transition from less human conditions to those which are more human.”
Laudato Si widens the Church’s perspective even further to embrace, not just humans, but all creation. Though previous popes had written about ecology, Pope Francis is the first to acknowledge the magnitude of the ecological crisis, the urgency with which it must be faced and the irreversible nature of ecological damage. He writes “it is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.”( No.15). He continues “never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two centuries. (No. 53).
As in all his documents, Pope Francis acknowledges the work and witness of others. These include other Christian Churches and religions (No 7). There is a special word of praise for the Greek Orthodox, Patriarch Bartholomew who has spoken “persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation.” (No. 7). Conferences of Bishops from many countries are mentioned in the text. Many might be surprised by his words of gratitude to “the worldwide ecological movement that has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organisations committed to raising awareness of these challenges.”( No. 14).
Laudato Si examines what is happening to the land, air, oceans and in every part of the world. He deals emphatically with climate change and the destruction of biodiversity. His quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas, a man who did not have access to a microscope or telescope, is marvellous. “Saint Thomas Aquinas wisely noted that … inasmuch as God’s goodness “could not be represented fittingly by any one creature”. Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships.” (48). Pope Francis also shows the “intimate relationship between (caring for) the poor and the fragility of the planet. (No.16.).`
Education is key to having the vision of this document implemented across the Catholic and wider religious world. On January 1st 1990, Pope John Paul II published a statement on ecology, entitled “Peace with God the Creator: Peace with All Creation.” In the second paragraph he acknowledged that “a new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge which, rather than being downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programmes and initiatives.” (No.1). Very little happened to fulfill this wish of Pope John Paul II.
Once again in Laudato Si Pope Francis has emphasised the importance of education. “Ecological education can take place in a variety of settings: at school, in families, in the media, in catechesis and elsewhere. Good education plants seeds when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life. (No. 213).” Pope Francis is particularly concerned that: “All Christian communities have an important role to play in ecological education. It is my hope that our seminaries and houses of formation will provide an education in responsible simplicity of life, in grateful contemplation of God’s world, and in concern for the needs of the poor and the protection of the environment. Because the stakes are so high, we need institutions empowered to impose penalties for damage inflicted on the environment. But we also need the personal qualities of self-control and willingness to learn from one another. “(No. 214).
Despite this wonderful document Catholics must remember that, to date, care for the earth is still only at the periphery of Catholic experience. For example, there are very few ‘care of the earth’ ministries in dioceses or parishes world-wide. That needs to change radically if the vision in Laudato Si is to come to fruition.
One effective way of educating people would be through a traditional Church process, called a Synod. A Synod is a period of listening and reflecting, a journey together by men and women in a diocese, seeking answers to issues which are important for the life of the Church and the world. It is based on a notion of partnership among Catholics, sharing their various gifts in a particular diocese in order to shape the mission of the Church for the future.
A Synod will involve study, robust sharing, prayer and liturgical celebrations. Since all environments are local and different, the first year would be at local diocesan level. During this period the Church would learn about the local environment using the skills of people working with heritage and wildlife programmes. All the countries which have signed the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) are expected to have publications on the natural habitats in their country. These would help introduce Catholics to the flora and fauna of their special place. In the words of the encyclical we are called to encounter our ‘common home’. Young people, especially those who have studied science, have much to offer in this area. Older people will have a special contribution as they remember how things were 40 or 50 years ago. The Synod at diocesan level can also examine issues such as climate change, the destruction of biodiversity, air pollution and water contamination and other issues which are dealt with in the encyclical. During this period it can begin to articulate an effective theology and spirituality that might help underpin the new way of viewing creation and the role humans might have in this new context. Local liturgies, prayers, hymns and pilgrimages could be organised to celebrate God’s creation and to ask for pardon for destroying it through ignorance or greed. This might be a good at time to reconnects our sacraments with both the Christian community and the natural world.
This exercise could be an extraordinary time of learning for everyone. This might lead to a more collegial Church at the local level and the Synod could be a catalyst for change in the wider world as well.
The second phase would pursue much the same process, but this time the focus would be national. A country such as the Philippines might discuss why the rainforests were destroyed so thoughtlessly. A country like Ireland might ask what is happening to its bogs and whether our plans to expand milk production would damage our common home?
The final phase would be a global synod with suggestions for action coming in from across the globe. The whole Synod experience would be a learning process for everyone, so that the participants would become more and more aware of what is happening ecologically in the world. Solutions would also begin to emerge.
I repeat, this is a most exciting document, but it is only a beginning. Real efforts and resources have to be placed behind it if this concern is to find its rightful place at the heart of Christian ministry.
Sean McDonagh, SSC,
St. Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath.
tel 00353872367612
visit my blog at http://earthcaremission.wordpress.com

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  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    A most interesting document it is. If the Pope were to somehow engage in the writings of Rene Girard, his knowledge on how to combat this problem would lead him to the age range where mimetic desire is less present. In 50 years when the predicted global tides rise, there are 9 coastal nuclear reactors in North America alone which will be at the constant threat of hurricanes, tsunamis and extreme global weather. Slowing down the climate change train, so to speak, but more importantly, decommissioning these coastal radiation centres is of the utmost importance because we can only have one Fukushima, right? What to do next? My suggestion – invest a little money in a message that can get out to the 13-17 year old age group world-wide to : 1. let them know this is a future problem worth investigating, 2. advise them that the adults are essentially “sick” with mimetic desire and really won’t put the attention needed on this issue and 3. use the Vatican’s strong arm to start to close the loopholes on corporate tax evasion which could fund whole emergence into the 5th world as it is foretold. Pope Francis, by way of this encyclical, just made the Hopi Nation the most prominent prophets of this generation, by the way. Their work must be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as well as others. The only questions that remain are : 1. Does the ACP (PI, USACP, et al) continue to divide the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and 2. If you use this opportunity as a way to put your actions in the forefront of the Pope’s agenda, would he be more responsive to a conversation regarding reform and Tony’s status within the church? Too aggressive?

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    This is the first papal encyclical I remember which I can read without straining my attention!
    I like the fact that the “Incipit”, the starting words, are in St Francis’s Umbrian dialect of Italian: an affirmation of the importance of local culture. Also that there is a clear effort to use inclusive language. Paragraph 5 spells out the phrase “men and women” ten times, where the Italian, Spanish, and French have “human being”; the German uses the inclusive word “Mensch”. “Men and women” occurs ten times in the encyclical.
    At the end of paragraph 15 there’s the statement “I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience”, which seems somewhat pompous, but in Italian it’s more like “I will offer some guidelines for human development inspired by the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.”
    In paragraph 51, it has “There is a pressing need to calculate the use of environmental space throughout the world for depositing gas residues which have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation which currently affects all the countries of the world.” Perhaps Seán can say whether “gas” in this case is in the North American sense of “petrochemical residues”. How big a problem is this?
    An added pollution problem is the effect of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) not only on health, but also on fertility in both humans and other species. This may be one of the major emerging disasters of this century.

  3. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Wow, this hasn’t generated much discussion on this page at all. Is everyone on vacation or is it too much “the sky is falling” for the general populace. I read somewhere that this was the most important encyclical written in the last 120 years. That is laughable. This is the most important contribution to the Roman Catholic Church ever since it calls everyone out, believers and non. This is the battle between good and evil we’ve been asked to wage and where is everyone?
    “Standing in a different place – I can’t see but a reflected fate
    and these four walls can’t surround me.
    Looking for a different race. Can we really keep this pace?
    And the norm, has it drowned me?
    We’re endlessly drifting, it’s timelessly shifting, it’s time to turn the tide. Survivors of consequence, this ain’t our deliverance. Did you receive it? I don’t think I got it. Man, and I don’t want it until it’s time. Victims of circumstance, we don’t get a second chance. Do you believe this? Would you have conceived this? I think it’s time to turn the tide.
    Staring down the same abyss a desperate chance was missed and now the time, it has come again. Realize that it’s within your mind, this animal called humankind. And we are begging…begging to be saved.”

  4. Con Devree says:

    My thinking on this issue is influenced by two factors in particular. First I’m not sure that Laudato Si will make any significant difference in the disposition of political forces, for the hard truth is that not even many Catholics look to the Church for guidance on matters within its competence not to speak of matters outside it.
    Second, the global warming/environmental decay hypothesis may be merely plausible, albeit backed by some, but at times, fraudulent evidence. The matter is very complex and some data show our actual world has not been getting warmer in the last twenty years – more or less, depending whose database one uses.
    Further one notes that while the satellite data hardly prove the warming hypothesis, they do show that the planet is greening. This would be the normal expectation of excess carbon dioxide: plants flourishing. There are claims that the polar ice caps have not been melting, the sea level has not been rising, extreme weather events are not increasing, and various other scary predictions are not coming true. Suggestions that they must be delayed are classically non-scientific. And remember the previous predictions of environmental doom! We do not know the future balance between circumstances and mankind’s ability to react to them.
    The Pope does not take the absolute view. On foot of the worrying evidence he wisely counsels that we take appropriate measures in case the situation is as dire as many predict.
    The most important contribution of Laudato Si is A SPIRITUALITY OF CREATION drawn from Romano Guardini, Pope Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and others,that provide a better way to engage the questions. There are 60+ references to his two predecessors but he creates a greater sense of crisis.
    He outlines a response from Catholicism based on God as creator and on the nature of a creation of discordant harmonies. His wish is that a SPIRITUALITY OF CREATION orientated toward the relationship between God and human beings, and the consequent type of relationship between human beings and creation would lead scientists and technologists to rethink some of the cherished but failed, self absorbed notions which have led to the currently posited environmental catastrophes, and instead,move towards the more positive benefits which science and technology can bestow.
    The Church response should be saturated with Scripture. He emphasizes one of the underlying characteristics of the Social Teaching of the Church – a more simple life style, as part solution to the problem of poverty.
    But he is not an expert on the alleviation of poverty.
    His wish is that Catholicism should not end up imitating the restricted ecology of the atheist world – deploring a callous stance towards the natural physical world only, while ignoring more pitiless stances of abortion, coercive means of population control, experimentation on embryos, and other offenses against the sanctity of life which secular environmentalists and journalists promote.
    He regards it as contradictory for Catholicism to presume to join the expedition towards Babylon via Mount Sion.

  5. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Con, @ 5 do you think it’s a good idea to clean up the planet? Under what scenario isn’t it? How does cleaning up the planet not fall within the Church’s competence especially after Benedict published a new list of social sins you all probably weren’t aware of. Satellite data you say? Go visit the industrial sections of China and India – that should be enough data for anyone to think differently about the world.
    A response saturated with Scripture is what people expect. Too bad the Pope is going to sit by and watch the activists take over and push a message to the far reaches of the globe. The oceans are going to be poisoned and Ireland, by virtue of your global location, is an at risk location. Fukushima was a warning shot to which the globalists didn’t even flinch. How many nuclear sites are there in Europe on a coastline. There are 9 in North America, alone. The fact that the response to Fukushima has been so poor tells us that a certain demographic in the world is slightly “insane” or somewhat “mimetically” sick. Age range have something to do with it? Yes, definitely. Teenagers in control would have moved us to green energy years ago. How could that statement be true? Ask Rene Girard.

  6. Con Devree says:

    Lloyd, if you wouldn’t mind and if the editor would allow it, I would like to respond on Padraing McCarthys thread “Laudato Si Condensed version of June 27.

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