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Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment

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My overview of Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato S:

The earth, our common home, now “cries out because of the harm we have inflicted on her”.  These startling words are taken from Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si; they tell us why the Pontiff felt compelled to call humankind to new levels of discussion and dialogue concerning the welfare of our earthly home.    

Unfortunately, according to the Pope, the ecological crisis we now face is generally met with “obstructionist attitudes of denial, indifference, nonchalant resignation and blind confidence in technical solutions.”

This evasiveness is not surprising, given the state of the mindset at work; “we see ourselves as the earth’s Lord and Master, entitled to plunder her at will.”

Perhaps such irrational behavior can make sense if we consider that “we have forgotten that our bodies are made up of her elements, that we breathe her air and receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

Using the best scientific evidence available, the Pontiff paints a picture of an earth in crisis. He explains that this crisis is propelled by political forces overpowered by technology and finance, a mix whose survival depends on the naïve belief that an empty heart can be filled by over-consumption.

Thus we are face to face with a cultural spiritual crisis, one which can’t be resolved, nor can ecological health be achieved, until society becomes part of an effort aimed at bringing about authentic human development.  

Each of the six Chapters of the Encyclical, seen below, has its own subject and approach, which in turn generate critical questions. However, by weaving ten different themes into the development of the Encyclical, Pope Francis is able to reconsider the questions in the light of a new framing. The Encyclical Structure The six Chapters of the Encyclical:

What is Happening to our Common Home

  1. The Global Creation

  2. The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis

  3. Integral Ecology

  4. Lines of Approach and Action

  5. Ecological Education and Spirituality

The ten themes woven throughout the Encyclical are shown below. However, each theme is accompanied with an illustrative quote. Theme #10 below is suggestive of actions to take.

  1. The relationship of the poor and the fragility of the planet.

    “Many of the poor live in areas affected by global warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services- agriculture, fishing, forestry.”(#25)

  2. Everything in the world is connected.

    “Genuine care for our lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” (#70)

  3. Critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology.

    “Economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. (#56)

  4.  A call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress.

    “The earth’s resources are being plundered because of shortsighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production." (#32)

  5. The value proper to each creature.

    “It is not enough to think of different species merely as potential resources to be exploited, while overlooking that fact that they have value in themselves.” (#33)

  6. The human meaning of ecology.

    “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable things, 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)

  7. The need for forthright and honest debate.

    “If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.” (#63)

  8. Responsibility for international and local policy.

    “In some places cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency. This example shows that while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference.” (#179)

  9.  Throwaway culture

    “Most paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled.” (#22)

  10. Proposal of a new lifestyle.

    “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume.” (#204) “Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in order to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending.” (#204) “However, the God who created the universe, can intervene to overcome evil. Injustice is not invincible”(#74) “We need to remember that men and women have the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and develop their spiritual endowments. (#127) “There is nobility in the duty to care for creation through daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about a change of lifestyle.” (#211) “In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say thank-you as an expression of gratitude, to control our aggressivity and greed, and ask for forgiveness when we have caused harm. These gestures help create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings.”(#213)