Francis Said What?
Pope Francis recently released his encyclical, the open letter titled “Laudato Si” and subtitled “On Care For Our Common Home.” As expected, the 187 page document is a call for a major shift in cultural perspectives on environmental awareness. What’s surprising is the encyclical’s strong and varied language on the matter. In short, it makes plain Pope Francis’s belief that climate change is real and that humans are responsible for it.
To be sure, climate change isn’t the encyclical’s only concern. Rather, the letter is an indictment of many things that Pope Francis thinks of as harmful habits of the modern era. In the letter, he not only decries the lack of environmental stewardship practiced by modern people, but also the wastefulness of modern economies and the thoughtless way that many modern people use technology.
What Does the Document Actually Say?
The language of the letter is a passionate mix of religious entreaties and, perhaps most surprisingly, scientific reasoning. The pope specifically calls on people of faith and people of science to work together, even those for whom those two concepts rarely interact. Pope Francis demonstrates that he is conversant in the chemistry of carbon emissions and the biology of how pollution impacts health. His use of such terminology also implicitly pulls the often science-averse Catholic Church into a shared conversation with climate scientists and scientifically educated laypeople.
Environmental stewardship is just one aspect of the encyclical. Arguably, more of the large document’s overall word count is devoted to the larger topic of social justice. Pope Francis uses secular phrasing in some sections, outright denouncing major corporations for their roles in the creation of wealth inequality and horrible living and working conditions for people in the developing world.
The pope also appeals to religious reasoning, devoting an entire chapter to Catholic justifications for his secularly worded concerns in previous chapters. He connects Mary, Mother of Jesus to the Christian obligation of tending to the least fortunate among us, saying, “Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.” Later, he says of St. Joseph, “The Gospel presents Joseph as a just man, hard-working and strong. But he also shows great tenderness, which is not a mark of the weak but of those who are genuinely strong, fully aware of reality and ready to love and serve in humility. That is why he was proclaimed custodian of the universal Church.”
What Do You Think?
The entirety of “Laudato Si” is available online at the Vatican website, both in Web and PDF. Pope Francis invites all living people to enter the conversation started in this encyclical, so share your thoughts with us here. Do you agree with Pope Francis about environmental stewardship and social justice?