Love calls the faithful to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” for “our common home,” Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the environment promulgated June 18.
The much-anticipated encyclical is the second from Pope Francis, who issued Lumen Fidei in 2013 to mark the Year of Faith.
The title Laudato Si’ comes from a hymn of praise by St. Francis of Assisi. The hymn emphasizes being in harmony with God, with other creatures and with other human beings.
The pope praises St. Francis, from whom he took his name, as a model “of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically.”
“Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human,” he wrote. “Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise.”
While recognizing the “human roots of the ecological crisis,” the pope maintained that human beings can still work together to build up “our common home.”
“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change,” the pope wrote.
“Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones,’” he said, referencing Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas et Vertitate.
Pope Francis began the encyclical letter explaining how this teaching builds upon the teaching of his predecessors, beginning with St. John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris. Blessed Paul VI referred to the ecological crisis as the “tragic consequence” of unmitigated civilizations.
“Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation,” Paul VI wrote in his 1971 apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens.
St. John Paul II called for an ecological conversion, Pope Francis explained. Authentic human development fully respects the human person, but also the world. Caring for the world recognizes “all that is” as a gift from God.
“Care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion. Jesus reminded us that we have God as our common Father and that this makes us brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis wrote.
Religion, he pointed out, has a particular role to play in ecological awareness. Spirituality must never forget the God is the all-powerful Creator.
“The universe did not emerge as a result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion,” the pope wrote. “Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things.”
Pope Francis, while recognizing the unique place of human beings as images of God, also stressed that each creature has its own purpose.
“A sense of deep communion cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings,” he wrote. “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.”
Every ecological approach should take into account the traditions of indigenous peoples who deeply respect the environment. This is especially important since they bear the brunt of disrespect to the environment.
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to cover just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself.”
What’s more, a transformative ecological culture requires a cultural conversion that changes how society thinks, educates and governs. The environment isn’t just nature itself, but the relationship between nature and society.
“Many things have to change of course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change,” the pope wrote. “We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging and of a future to be shared with everyone.”
This kind of awareness can be a spark for transformation.
“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning,” he explained.
To face the environmental challenge will require a conversation that includes everyone, since the challenge affects us all.
“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it,” the pope wrote.
“The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures.”