There is a story within the story of Laudato Sì – Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical letter “On the Care of our Common Home.” The letter is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until the publication of the Pope’s important document one year ago on June 18, the dialogue about the environment had been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion – clearly, decisively and systematically.
The encyclical is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” and calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in the Pope’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth.” Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.
Over the past year I have had the privilege of addressing many groups, including Church leaders, throughout North America on this important encyclical. I am convinced that Laudato Sì is a privileged instrument and catalyst of dialogue with other Christians, with believers of other religions, with people of little or no faith, and with people of good will. The questions that the encyclical raises have elicited intense, serious and passionate dialogue. One year after the publication of this masterful teaching document of the Roman Catholic Church, let us ask some questions of how we have truly “received” the encyclical in our ecclesial community and put it into practice.
- What does Pope Francis mean by a “throwaway culture” (22)? Do you agree with him? Why?
- What are the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development, and the throwaway culture (43-47)?
- Why does Pope Francis think that simply reducing birth rates of the poor is not a just or adequate response to the problem of poverty or environmental degradation (50)?
- Why does Pope Francis argue that “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” (139)?
- What does Pope Francis see as the successes and failures of the global response to environmental issues (166-169)?
- What does the Pope mean by an ecological spirituality, and how can it motivate us to a passionate concern for the protection of our world (216)?
- Pope Francis proposes that the natural world is integral to our sacramental and spiritual lives (233-242). How have you experienced this?
- How is this encyclical changing your life and your way of thinking about the world that God so loved?
Laudato Si’ must be read not only as a work of Catholic social teaching, but also as great instrument of the first Evangelisation and the new Evangelisation, and a witness to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Pope Francis’ letter reflects a profound confidence and openness to the world. The encyclical is a perfect example of how the Church, at the highest level, understands the modern world, enters into a profound dialogue with the world, and repeats again her age-old message of salvation in a new way. With this landmark encyclical letter, Pope Francis lays the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration. For in the end, it is in the name and mission of Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope issues his call to conversion – a compelling invitation to each of us to look at the earth and all of its creatures with the loving eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. – www.zenit.org