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Laudato Si (Praise Be)

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June 18, 2015

In Laudato Si, a letter addressed to all the people of the world, Pope Francis presents a clear and compelling case for placing people at the center of a renewed commitment to caring for the planet.

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with 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.”  [139]

The Encyclical (literally circular letter) is a teaching from the Pope that can be addressed to the Church hierarchy, the laity or, in this case, “all people.”  The salutation echoes the one used by St. Pope John XXIII’s famous 1963 letter, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), as the world grew to realize the threat of nuclear confrontation.

This letter has been very highly anticipated since there are several key moments this year in which the nations of the world will attempt to reach a consensus on addressing climate change.  The Pope is attempting to bring a moral voice to the global negotiations.

The dangers to the environment prevalent in the modern world demand that the world work together, he says.  Pope Francis is unambiguous in his call for the world to reexamine its current course:

  • The book of Genesis makes clear “that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” [66]
  • “[E]very ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged.”  [93]
  •  “When human beings place themselves at the center, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative.”  [122]

Many were very curious about what Pope Francis would say about the causes of climate change – a politically charged issue in the United States.  Early in the letter he addresses the question:

“A very solid scientific consensus indication that we are presently witness a disturbing warming of the climate system ...  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.  It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.” [23]

He calls climate change one of our principal challenges that will affect not only this generation but others as well and he chides those who “mask” the problem.

As he has so often in his Papacy, the Holy Father points out that the problems of the environment, clean water, loss of biodiversity and decline in the quality of human life impact all people on earth, but none more so than the poorest and most vulnerable among us who are “often treated as an afterthought.”

Pope Francis asks the world to find a course between “the myth of progress,” in which technology is the answer to everything, and “those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited.” [60]

He breaks open what he calls the “Gospel of Creation” in which he stresses that human life is grounded in three relationships – to God, to our neighbor and to the earth.  And he stresses that humanity has no “absolute dominion” over the earth.

He also points out that we continue to tolerate inequality, in which some consider themselves more worthy than others:

“A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.  It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.” [91]

Over and over, he returns to the theme that everything is related – earth is our shared inheritance – and we must care for people first and foremost:

“Hence every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged.” [93]

The human roots of the ecological crisis, says Pope Francis, stem from our overconfidence in technology – not every advance is progress.  The problems of hunger and poverty, for instance, will not be solved by expanding markets.

Everything is related, he points out, and our relationship with the environment cannot be separated from our relationship with others and with God:

“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.  How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” [120]

In Laudato Si he calls for bringing together all aspects of live into an “integral ecology” that ties together environmental, economic, social and cultural necessities.  And he urges that people work together to improve the life of others in such areas as employment, housing, clean water, urban decay and rural isolation.

We must realize, says Pope Francis, recognize and reverse the dangers of instant gratification in a consumerist society.

The Holy Father offers hope to “escape the spiral of self-destruction” through such actions as reducing our dependence on coal and gas and production of greenhouse gases.  But he laments, the political will has not been there:

 “A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth.  In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments ... True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good.  Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building.” [178]

Instead, says Pope Francis, we need “a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis.”[197]

Countries must help other countries, the full cost and impact of development must be transparent and addressed (especially on local populations) and the nations of the world must find ways to address the growing environmental threat to our common home and the inheritance we will leave future generations.

Technology is not enough.  People must change, he stresses, by simplifying their lives and moving away from the need to constantly consume.  Again and again, he returns to the message of limiting consumerism and unfettered confidence in technology and markets as in this passage when he addresses the need to enhance education on the environment:

“Environmental education has broadened its goals.  Whereas in the beginning it was mainly centered on scientific information, consciousness-raising and the prevention of environmental risks, it tends now to include a critique of the “myths” of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market).” [210]

The “little” things each of us can do help:

“Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.” [211]

Our efforts must, of course, be grounded in a firm spirituality.  The world is a gift and we are called – through the examples of saints such as St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis, St. John of the Cross and  St. Bonaventure – to engage in a personal conversion:

“First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.” [220]

The Holy Father concludes with a call for us to pray for the intercession of Mary, the “Queen of All Creation” and, as he often does, for us to emulate the model of protection provided by St. Joseph.  He also includes two prayers – one that we can share with all who believe in an all-powerful Creator, and the other in which all Christians can use to ask for inspiration in our work of caring for creation.


Laudato Si (Praise Be)
Full text of the Encyclical

Reflections on Creation from Church Teaching

Quotes from Pope Francis on Care for Creation

Quotes from Pope Benedict XVI on Care for Creation

Quotes from Saint Pope John Paul II on Care for Creation

The Environment, A Collective Good (excerpt from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)

Prayers

Links & Additional Resources