Pope Francis recently released his encyclical called Laudato Si or “Praise be to You”. It is the teaching of Pope Francis on our responsibility to care for our common home.
Although it is quite a long document and may be difficult for some to digest, here’s 20 key themes from the encyclical to reflect on and to hopefully encourage you to read the full encyclical.
Article below was taken from Catholic Talk and written by Monica Doumit
Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si’ (Praised be to You) was released a few hours ago. Colloquially, the “encyclical on the environment”, it is the teaching of Pope Francis on our responsibility to care for our common home.
In this piece, we extract 20 key themes from Laudato Si’.
[Note: This is only an initial impression of the document after a quick first read. Laudato Si’ is almost 200 pages in length, and it warrants careful study and prayerful reflection. I apologise for any grave omissions!]
1 Consistency with previous Popes
Pope Francis begins Laudato Si’ by referencing teachings on the environment given by his predecessors: St John XXIII, Blessed Pope Paul VI, St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In doing this, he reminds the reader that care for the environment has been a consistent part of Catholic social teaching (and not some new focus from the “left-leaning” Pope Francis.)
2 Appeal for dialogue
In his introductory comments, Pope Francis also makes it very clear what he is seeking with writing the Encyclical Letter. He says:
It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter… can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.
He calls for “a conversation which includes everyone”, and asks all of us to work together to protect our common home. He says that no field of knowledge should be excluded.
3 Technological advances sometimes create more problems than they solve
Pope Francis contrasts the speed with which technological change and human activity occurs today with “the naturally slow pace of biological evolution.” Using the example of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, he notes that technology, which is often linked to business interests, sometimes creates more problems than it solves.
4 The link to the “throwaway culture”
Pope Francis links the massive amount of physical waste produced in our world today with the “throwaway culture”, one of the themes which has marked his Pontificate. A throwaway culture has an attitude of disposing what we deem no longer useful, be it the elderly or non-biodegradable materials.
5 Acknowledgement of man-made climate change
There is a lot of controversy about whether climate change is a natural occurrence, or the result of human activity. Pope Francis buys into this conversation. He says:
A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system… Humanity is called to recognise 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… yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases… released mainly as a result of human activity.
6 Water as a human right
Pope Francis draws our attention specifically to the problem of the quality of water available to the poor, and the death and disease which this brings. He notes a growing tendency to privatise water as a resource, and says:
Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.
7 Environmental degradation is linked to human and societal degradation
Pope Francis sees the harm caused to our environment as being interconnected with our culture more broadly.
He speaks of individualism, of a view of the human person as being just another being, of relativism, of a propensity to treat others as objects (particularly in the workplace), of the pursuit of immediate self-gratification and to the discarding of the elderly, the poor and the unborn as all markers of a culture which is self-focused.
He calls for a renewal of humanity itself in order to achieve a proper ecology.
8 The disproportionate impact on the poor
Pope Francis speaks about the disproportionate use of natural resources by wealthier countries, and the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the poor. He reminds us that they are the ones most dependent on subsistence farming and fishing and notes that, when these are disrupted, they do not have the financial activities or social welfare in place to support them (as those of us in wealthier countries do.)
He also notes that the most important reserves of the biosphere are found in developing countries, but these are being used to fuel the development of wealthier countries.
For this reason, he says that “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
He calls for differentiated responsibilities – those with more need to do more!
9 The impact of big business
The Holy Father points out that multinational companies pollute in less developed countries in ways they would never be permitted to at home. He says that these companies, because of the significant economic power they wield, are able to stifle action on the environment at a political level.
He also notes that economies of scale in the agricultural sphere has crowded out smaller operations of local production of food, and says that restraints may have to be imposed on those who possess greater resources to ensure that the small producers are not eliminated.
10 Birth control is not the answer
Despite acknowledging human contribution to climate change, Pope Francis says that population control is not the answer. He says:
Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”… To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimise the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalised, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.
11 Faith can help
Pope Francis argues that because the ecological crisis is complex and multi-faceted, the response needs to be similarly broad. “No branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it”, he says.
This is particularly the case if, as the Pope suggests, the ecological problems faced come from a deeper crisis of humanity.
Pope Francis acknowledges that at times, Christians have interpreted the granting of “dominion” over the earth to human beings as providing permission for “unbridled exploitation of nature.” He rejects this as incorrect, and instead speaks instead of a relationship of “mutual responsibility” between human beings and nature.
“Clearly”, he says, “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”
He calls the faithful in particular to an “ecological conversion”, where our encounter with Jesus Christ is evident in the way we relate to the world around us.
12 We are all interdependent
Pope Francis tells us that even though we insist that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, there is a purpose for every creature. He describes creation as a sign of God’s boundless love for us, His “caress”. He also speaks of the interdependence of creatures and the need to behave in service of the other.
This theme of interdependence is also picked up in his call for co-operation amongst nations, creeds and schools of thought in working towards a solution to ecological problems.
13 Genuine ecology needs compassion for fellow human beings
Pope Francis teaches us that we cannot be in communion with nature if we lack compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. He says it is inconsistent to show concern for the plight of animals without also being concerned about our brothers and sisters.
14 Common ground between believers and non-believers should lead us to care for the poor
Pope Francis points out that believers and non-believers alike share the common ground that “the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.” Because the world is for everyone, he tells us, every ecological approach naturally leads us to be concerned for the rights of the poor and underprivileged.
15 Advancement does not necessarily mean progress
Pope Francis tells us that we can sometimes consider every advancement in technology or increase in power to be progress, “as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from economic power as such.”
He warns us that science and technology are not neutral and reminds us that the incredible development we have experienced in the technological space has not been met with a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.
We need to redefine our progress, he tells us, and accept that we may need to accept “decreased growth” in some parts of the world to ensure that everyone has enough on which to live.
16 The environment and gender ideology
Interestingly, Pope Francis briefly touches upon gender ideology in the conversation about ecology, because we cannot have a proper relationship with nature if we reject our own. He says that we need to accept our own bodies in their fullness for any human ecology to occur and this includes “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity.”
17 The need for international regulations
Pope Francis tells us that solutions to the present ecological problems cannot come from a perspective of defending the interests of a few countries only. He notes that international progress is stifled when countries place their own national interests above the common good. He says that enforceable international agreements are urgently needed.
Notably, he says that the factors which hinder global environmental solutions are the same ones which hold back the elimination of poverty around the world.
18 An appeal to courage and moral responsibility
Pope Francis notes that much of what needs to be done will extend beyond the term that current politicians are in office, and even beyond the current state of business. The investments required to protect the environment, both political and financial, need to be made with a view to the medium- or long-term success of the endeavours. This means that those currently holding positions of responsibility in government and business will need to look beyond their own popularity or financial success to a greater good which might only be achieved after they have moved on.
This means that the decision to act requires courage, and this Encyclical Letter is in part an exercise of moral leadership from someone recognised as having authority to speak in those terms.
19 Joy and peace
Taking a contemplative and spiritual perspective on this topic, Pope Francis speaks to us about contentment. He observes that those who are constantly seeking more are not at peace, whereas those who have learnt to appreciate and enjoy the simple things radiate peace.
He notes that the integrity of ecosystems is dependent on the integrity of human lives.
Despite the “doom and gloom” of the ecological crisis, Pope Francis also provides us with great hope. He reminds us that we are always capable to go out of ourselves towards the other. He speaks about small changes we can all make in our own lives and in our communities, and says: “we must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world.”
Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk contributor
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