“Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”
Pope Francis made this declaration in his encyclical letter on the environment, “Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home” . The growing climate strike by young people, dramatically joined around the world on September 20, is the embodiment of this demand.
In “Laudato Si” the Pope refers again and again to the harm we do to future generations by failing to care for the environment. He also recognizes the impact that this failure is having on the faith of young people and their relationship with the church. Most importantly perhaps, he encourages young people to take their rightful place in the effort.
His more recent apostolic exhortation on young people, “Christus Vivit,” takes up some of these same themes. “The Lord calls us to share in his work of creation and to contribute to the common good by using the gifts we have received.” Pope Francis invites young people to service, “our life on earth reaches full stature when it becomes an offering.” He opens the exhortation with a message of hope:
Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!
Similarly the opening of Laudato Si offers comfort and calls us to appreciate the beauty of the earth:
“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
These words of Pope Francis’ may be relatively new but the work he calls us to is as old as the story of creation and can be found again and again in the scriptures, in the writings and contemplations of the saints, and in the themes of Catholic Social Teaching, most notably Care for God’s Creation. The Pope reminds us that war, poverty, and the displacement of people all contribute to and are exacerbated by the current crisis. Greed, consumerism, individualism and a lack of cooperation between governments, corporations, and scientists all conspire to make things worse.
For the Church to be credible to young people and faithful to our own identity as God’s children and stewards of God’s creation, we must take seriously and join young people in their efforts to care for the earth. As Pope Francis reminds us in “Laudato Si”: “It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity.”