On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis officially released an encyclical (the highest level of teaching in the Catholic Church) regarding the responsibility of humans to reconsider our rightful relationship to the natural (human and non-human) world in which we find ourselves and to which we are inextricably linked. You might like to read this easy-to-find primary source on the web or buy a bound copy of the “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home”. The encyclical was remarkable in that it directly spoke, as a matter of essential teaching, to 1.2 billion Roman Catholics globally. The release was also timely in that it appeared a few months before the December 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris.
The N.Y. Times reported, “News media interest was enormous, in part because of Francis’ global popularity, but also because of the intriguing coalition he is proposing between faith and science.” Certainly, there has been great joy among environmentalists and many others who have felt that they were isolated voices crying in the wilderness and struggling to get traction with centers of political power and a consensus-manufacturing media. Nevertheless, there has also been public pushback aimed at Pope Francis from those who resist the claims of environmentalists and their implications for action.
Pope Francis’ bold clarion call in Laudato Si’ is passionate but also thoughtful and undogmatic in exemplary ways. Even while summonsing the best conclusions and consensus of the scientific community, there is a tone of humility and a recognition that knowledge is always partial and emergent. Yet, the pope advances a strong commonsense plea for global and decisive response to climate change rather than adopting a wait-and-see attitude. He calls for inclusive dialogue that is transdisciplinary and ecumenical. He invites scholars, scientists, and atheists to join in conversation with those from indigenous traditions, Abrahamic faiths, and Eastern religions. He does this for reasons that transcend the pragmatic one—that we simply need all-hands-on-deck in this emergency. Instead, he understands that there must be a melding of technical capacity and scientific knowledge with dialogue about what we have valued and will value and that this multi-perspectival dialogue should inform our path as we enter a time of inevitable change. The pope himself proposes an integral ecology in which he affirms the intrinsic value of the natural world and the inherent interconnectedness of all things.
At the end, Pope Francis offers a prayer. The excerpt below captures well the tone of his message:
“A prayer for our earth All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace….
You also dwell in our hearts and you inspire us to do what is good. …teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe, for all things speak of you. Awaken our praise and thankfulness.”
The voice of Pope Francis opens the window so that we can clearly see the heart of one who is in love with the world and all that is in it. Yet, pushback appeared. You may want to check out my blog post where I discuss examples as well as describe some of the formulaic, predictable responses that repeatedly serve to distract our culture from considering the central issues and weighing the validity of environmentalists’ claims.
The Pope’s encyclical is definitely worth a read. Also, among the first to take the Pope’s call to dialogue seriously, don’t neglect the recent book, Process-Relational Responses to Laudato Si’, published by Process Century Press and edited by John B. Cobb, Jr. and Ignacio Castuera.