Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical is about a lot more than recycling — it speaks to man’s deepest relationships — and the Pope will emphasize all this in his upcoming U.S. visit, said one leading U.S. bishop. Laudato si' is ultimately about “integral ecology,” or the connection between human relationships and nature, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami explained at the National Press Club on Wednesday. This means that a person’s relationships with himself, others, God, and nature are all connected — “when any one of these relationships suffer” the others will suffer too, Archbishop Wenski explained. Archbishop Wenski is chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Bishops. He, along with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, and Carolyn Woo, head of Catholic Relief Services, was explaining U.S. Catholics’ response to the encyclical in light of the Pope’s upcoming visit to the U.S. from Sept. 22-27. The encyclical was published in June, with the title taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” and meaning “Praise be to you.” While it strongly upholds man’s duty to care for the environment and calls for human action against climate change, the letter also connects environmental stewardship to care for human life in matters such as abortion, population control, and transgender issues. During his U.S. visit, Pope Francis will certainly address the environment, Archbishop Wenski said, but he won’t stop there. “Integral ecology demands that rainforests be protected because of what they do for the flourishing of the human species on this earth. And likewise, families should be protected, family life should be protected,” the archbishop said. “Marriage, understood for millennia as the union of one man and one woman ought to be protected.” “Our throwaway culture has extended to the very lives of human beings as well. We throw away life in the womb,” he added, noting that Pope Francis even cites “detrimental impacts of the destruction of embryos and of abortion in his encyclical.” “He [Pope Francis] decries how we neglect the disabled and show little respect for the lives and contributions of the elderly, and how we discard those that are poor,” he noted. “In our current age, human beings find themselves commodities and desires, as evidenced by human trafficking.” And just as we have distaste for environmental pollutants, the archbishop said, “should we not be just as concerned about the toxic waste of pornography?” When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia and addresses pilgrims at the World Meeting of Families, he will also include family life and religious liberty in his message, the archbishop said. “Certainly talking about the family in the context of our culture today is just as difficult, if not more so, than talking about the climate.” In his homily at the closing mass of the Fortnight for Freedom on July 4, Archbishop Wenski had emphasized the need to protect religious liberty so Catholic institutions could have the freedom to put into practice the teachings in Laudato si’. He reiterated the importance of religious liberty on Wednesday and expects Pope Francis to do the same when he speaks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia — where the both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted. “Here in this country, at Independence Hall Pope Francis will address religious freedom here in the World Meeting of Families,” he said. “Independence Hall is certainly a symbolic place to address that theme, and one that needs to be addressed because again, we keep hearing politicians speak of religious liberty only in terms of freedom of worship, and it’s got to be larger than freedom to worship.” “We also are faced with an attitude today of which religion is seen as somehow to be private, to be practiced only in the privacy of one’s own home as if it were some other type of vice that people do in their homes,” he added. “We belong to a public institution, a Church, so religion cannot be private.”
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