A rough guide to Laudato Si

Pope Francis’ new papal encyclical on our relationship with the environment has hit headlines around the world. Cafod’s Martin Brown gives an overview of the document.

The publication of Pope Francis’ new encyclical yesterday caused quite a stir.

Laudato Si’: Care for Our Common Home, looks at, among many other things, the impact that we have on our environment.

As this encyclical has a strong focus on human development and its relation to current environmental issues, this document will be considered part of Catholic Social Teaching.

What’s inside?

Pope Francis is calling on us to take better care of Creation – the environment and the world – so that we can all share in the things we need for our lives and our wellbeing.

The Holy Father is asking us to consider how we can love our neighbours – our sisters and brothers around the world – by sharing the wealth of the world, while also loving the earth by leading lives that are sustainable and don’t damage the planet.

This sounds basic and, to many Christians, a quite obvious teaching but it is very challenging if we allow it to challenge us.

We are challenged to think about how we can grow our economies and our wealth while caring about the common good and preventing dangerous climate change.

Pope Francis not only asks us to think personally about how our own discipleship can be reflected in our stewardship of the environment, but also looks at the more international and structural issues that need addressing.

It is split into several chapters after the introduction:

‘What is happening to our Common Home?’ looks at the current situation.

Key verse: 21. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.

‘The Gospel of Creation’ looks at God’s plan for the world.

Key verse: 84. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.

‘The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis’ looks at the cause of the problems.

Key verse: 106. Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.

‘Integral Ecology’ offers a vision for the environment that respects its human and social dimensions.

Key verse: 145. Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community.

‘Lines of Approach and Action’ looks at big steps that can be taken to move us forward.

Key verse: 165. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay.

‘Ecology Education and Spirituality’ is a challenge to ourselves, a challenge of renewal.

Key verse: 243. Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.

Is it a scientific document?

No, this is about faith. As Catholics we are called to look at the signs of the times and respond with a heart and lives formed by the Gospel and the Spirit.

There are many ecological issues, not least climate change. Last year the Pontifical Academy of Sciences confirmed what most scientists have been saying for a long time, that our climate is changing in an unprecedented way due to the action of humanity.

Pope Francis, responding to the science and the lived experience of countless people around the world, is responding to these signs and calling us to change. This is a moral issue for Pope Francis, as it is for the rest of us.

A New Teaching?

Environmental stewardship as a teaching in Catholicism isn’t new, it’s something that the Church and Popes before Francis have been speaking about for many decades.

However, although there are many previous statements by Popes and Bishops on the question of the environment and faith, this will be the first social encyclical in the Catholic Church to address care for the environment and environmental justice in a direct and specific way.

Pope Francis speaks in a direct way. How will we respond? Will we read it?

Will we change things in our lives? Will we add our voice to the call for greater stewardship of resources for the love of God and all his creatures?