Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Ecology
While the theme of Praised Be is the environment, Pope Francis is asking all of us — “every person living on this planet” — to consider what he calls “integral ecology.” In doing so, we are not only looking at the natural world, but also the human and social dimensions of our lives here on earth: a world where we see terrible human suffering as a result of environmental degradation, but also where there is hope and the real possibility of change for the better.
Praised Be envisions a world growing closer, rather than consumed by war and dissension, and stresses that there is a connection between care for the earth, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and our own interior peace. Pope Francis asks us, “Is this the kind of world we want to leave those who come after us? Do we want our children to grow up in a world consumed by this constant struggle?” Ultimately, the Holy Father is asking us to reevaluate our needs and our wants, and pointing the way to happiness: not a happiness based on the continual accumulation of material goods, but a true satisfaction and happiness in an environment that produces and sustains life.
The Holy Father’s teachings call to mind my own grandparents, who came of age during the Depression and World War II. They considered the waste of food and other things that could still be used or re-purposed “a sin,” and so does Pope Francis. We need to become more like them, but this is a difficult challenge in a society like ours that values consumption over conservation.
Just as previous Popes going back to Paul VI have done, Pope Francis has traveled the world and seen firsthand how some wealthier societies have gradually developed a “throwaway culture” and a “globalization of indifference,” and that others suffer the worst impacts of climate change, especially the poor and the vulnerable who are least responsible for it. He does not speak as an expert on climate change or offer a particular set of policy proposals. He’s not a scientist or a politician, he is a pastor who calls us to prayerfully, thoughtfully, and humbly consider how we might live more simply and fully, putting the needs of the poor first, thereby living more fully in communion with God, with others, and the earth.
Ultimately, Pope Francis offers us a message of hope: through dialogue and action, we can make the world a better place. He encourages us to have a change of heart and work together to better protect the earth, and to build a culture of life. He reminds us that God gave us this world as a gift and He asks us to take care of it and each other.
“I encourage Catholics and all people of good will to read the full letter with their hearts and eyes open to the moral teaching therein, and to the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world.”
About Pope Francis and Praised Be:
Pope Francis — who often is referred to as “the People’s Pope” — chose to be named after St. Francis of Assisi, lover of animals, companion of the poor, beloved by believer and nonbeliever alike. Pope Francis takes the title of the encyclical, Laudato Si’, from the introductory phrase to Saint Francis’ prayer, Canticle of the Creatures, in which St. Francis praises God for the sun, moon, starts, wind, water, fire and earth.
The teaching in Pope Francis’ encyclical is not new — it draws upon and repeats core Catholic moral teachings. Messages about wonder, gratitude, and care for the gift of God’s creation are found throughout the Bible from its very beginning in Genesis: “God charged us to till the earth and to keep it” (Gn 2:15). Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict taught us that our calling to care for nature stems from our calling to care for one another. And the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that human beings do not have an absolute dominion over the creation given to us by God on this earth; rather, it is limited by concern for quality of ife of our neighbors, including generations to come (note 2415).
For more information and resources, please visit www.catholicnh.org/environment.