Ecojesuit shares a study article on Laudato Si’ by Thomas Karimundackal SJ for an edited book that will come out, where he tried to look at the encyclical from the perspective of Pope Francis, his vision for our common home and humanity.
Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ is a landmark document which proposes integrity of human life and creation. It reveals the urgency and the immensity of the challenges that ‘our common home’ and humanity face today. It cannot be merely reduced to an ‘environmental’ or ‘climate’ document, but it should be considered as a gospel of the ‘creation,’ which is challenged and disfigured by human greed and selfishness. It proposes an integral ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings, and an eco-spirituality that can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world. This paper studies Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ with a view to unravel his vision for ‘our common home’ and humanity.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home and to mark the occasion, the Vatican named 16 to 24 May 2020 as Laudato Si’ Week. People from all corners of ‘our common home’ do recognize that significant changes are occurring in our ‘our common home,’ and they would like to see someone, anyone, do something about it.
Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home is a proactive document that calls forth our committed action in this direction to care for “our common home.”1It is addressed, probably for the first time in history, not only “to the entire Catholic world,” but also “to all people of good will,” and “every person living on this planet” [LS 3].2
The entire Encyclical is developed around the concept of integral ecology, as a paradigm able to articulate the fundamental relationships of the person: with God, with one’s self, with other human beings, with creation. Pope Francis firmly believes that the present ecological crisis is ultimately linked to a crisis of values, a spiritual void that permeates today’s technocratic society. What makes this document particularly proactive and innovative is the Pope’s bold appeal to action that acknowledges the urgency and the extent of the ecological challenges we face. Becoming aware of the ecological crisis of our times, Pope Francis calls for us to “promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature” [LS 215]. Thus, Laudato Si’ makes an appeal to reevaluate our worldviews, socio-religious values and beliefs.
This rich and beautiful document “on care for our common home” analyses the causes of today’s ecological challenges, from the social, cultural, ethical and spiritual perspectives. The content of the Encyclical is impressively expansive as it explores, “the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet; the conviction that everything in the world is connected; the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology; the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress; the value proper to each creature; the human meaning of ecology; the need for forthright and honest debate; the serious responsibility of international and local policy; the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new life-style” [LS 16].
Thus, the Pope shows concern for the environment and climate change to the level of our relationship with our God, our neighbor and our environment of which we are a part. He is reminding us of the gravity of the situation and the deep connections between religious values, social equity and environmental care. In short, according to the Pope the unprecedented destruction of ecosystems has serious consequence for all of us, and the challenge before us is nothing but to change our values and way of life, and to be proactive.
1. The Title and Goal of the Encyclical
The Encyclical takes its name Laudato Si’ from the invocation of Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures: Laudato si’, mi’ Signore – “Praise be to you, my Lord.”3These are the words of the beautiful poetic song written by Saint Francis of Assisi in the 13thcentury, reminding us that being in relationship with God and all Creation is to live a life of praise to our God for our common home. The title of the Encyclical on “Care for Our Common Home” thus reminds us that the earth, our common home, like the mystical experience of Saint Francis of Assisi, “is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us” [LS 1].
The very purpose of the Encyclical is spelt out in the beginning of document itself: to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” [LS 3]. The nature of this dialogue is further articulated in LS 14when the Pope says, “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environment challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” [LS 14]. Moreover, at the heart of Laudato Si’ we find this question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” [LS 160].
As Pope Francis says, “this question does not have to do with the environment alone and in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piece-meal. …. This leads us to ask ourselves about the meaning of existence and its values at the base of social life: What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” [LS 160]. Therefore, the very purpose of this document should be seen in the larger framework of human existence and its meaning. And therefore, the Pope says, “Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results” [LS 160].
2. The Encyclical’s Preamble [LS 1-16]
It is in the preamble of the Encyclical that Pope Francis gives us his profound spiritual insights that see the social, the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems and calls for a spiritual change of humankind in order to solve them. It is worthy to note his openness to listen to and learn from science [LS 11], and to enter into a dialogue with all [LS 3, 14], starting with a reflection that we all have been part of the problem and shall all be part of the solution too [LS 14,15].
At the outset of the Encyclical, Pope Francis compares our relationship to the earth with the mystical experience of Saint Francis of Assisi, calling her as sister [LS 1]. Immediately he turns our attention to her present pathetic situation saying, “this sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” [LS 2]. Pope Francis firmly believes that her cry is “due to an ill- considered exploitation of nature,” fuelled by “the explosion of industrial civilization” [LS 4]. Her cry, according to the Pope, united with that of the poor, stirs our conscience to “acknowledge our sins against creation” [LS 8]. Taking the words of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Pope reminds us: “For human beings … to destroy the biological diversity … by causing changes in its climate…; to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins” [LS 8]. Recalling the words of his predecessor Saint John Paul II, the Pope says that the appropriate response to such penitence calls for a “global ecological conversion” [LS 5]. For this, the Pope places Saint Francis of Assisi as “the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. […] He shows us just how inseparable is the bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” [LS 10].
Thus, the introduction to the Encyclical [LS 1-16] strongly puts forward a challenge to the people of the world that we can no longer be in denial, indifferent, or blindly confident in technical solutions [cf. LS 4]. Rather, it calls for an “urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity” [LS 4], initiating “a new dialogue” and “a new and universal solidarity” so that every person living on this planet might come together and consider how we are shaping the future of our common home [LS 14].
3. What is Happening to Our Common Home [LS 17-61]
The first chapter of the Encyclical draws a picture of the problem, namely “what is happening to our common home,” and thus it outlines Francis’ views on environmental concerns. According to him the changes affecting humanity and the planet are on increase [cf. LS 18], and “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” [LS 21]. According to the Pope, “if present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us” [LS 24], and “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth” [LS 161].
Therefore, at the outset of this chapter Pope Francis categorically states that “theological and philosophical reflections on the situation of humanity and the world can sound tiresome and abstract, unless they are grounded in a fresh analysis of our present situation, which is in many ways unprecedented in the history of humanity” [LS 17]. And after a brief analysis of the situation the Pope says, “but a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves” [LS 34]. The Pope says that after a period of “irrational confidence in progress and human abilities” [LS 19] we have to ask ourselves whether this is the right way to go. The “throwaway culture” [LS 22], according to the Pope, is shown as opposite to how nature works in sustainable cycles. In short, the first chapter of the Encyclical offers the reader a simple and well-drawn depiction of climate change, recognizing that it “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” [LS 25].
Then the Pope presents “several aspects of the present ecological crisis” [LS 15] as a way of listening to the cry of creation “to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” [LS 19]. Therefore, in this chapter the Pope looks at how environmental degradation has affected human life and society, such as pollution and climate change [LS 20-26], the issue of water [LS 27-31], the loss of biodiversity [LS 32-42], decline in quality of human life and the breakdown of society [LS 43-47], global inequality [LS 48-52] etc.
Thus the first chapter of the encyclical is a frank look at the facts of our world so that the reader might “become painfully aware” [LS 19] of the ways we have not been providing protection and care for the very place we call “home.” In short, this chapter is not meant to be abstract analysis but to “turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” [LS 19].
More importantly, the second part of the chapter addresses the human and social dimension of the ecological crisis, especially its effects to the poor, the most vulnerable, and the excluded, as those who suffer first and foremost from the effects of environmental degradation. It recognizes that “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach” [LS 49] and therefore that issues of justice have to be integrated in environmental debates, “so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” [LS 49].
In this chapter Pope Francis identifies six of the most serious challenges facing our common home:
A. Pollution, waste and our throwaway culture [LS 20-22]: The Pope brings to our notice that pollution affects the daily life of people with serious consequences to their health, so much so that it causes millions of premature deaths [LS 20]. The Pope says that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” [LS 21]. At the root of this situation he identifies “throwaway culture” which we have to oppose by introducing models of production based on reuse and recycling and by limiting the use of non-renewable resources. Unfortunately, he points out that “only limited progress has been made in this regard” [LS 22].
B. Climate change [LS 23-26]: the Pope says that “climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods” [LS 25], but “many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms” [LS 26]. At the same time, “our lack of response to these tragedies, involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded” [LS 25]. To preserve the climate “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” [LS § 25]
C. The issue of water [LS 27-31]: The Pope clearly states that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights” [LS 30]. To deprive the poor of access to water means “they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” [LS 30]. However, he notices that the entire populations, and especially children, get sick and die because of contaminated water, while aquifers continue to be polluted by discharges from factories and cities [cf. LS 27-29].
D. Loss of biodiversity [LS 32-42]: Extinction of plant and animal species caused by humanity changes the ecosystem, and future consequences cannot be predicted. The Pope says that “each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever” [LS 33] and the consequences cannot be predicted as “all of us, as living creatures, are dependent on one another” [LS 42]. He earnestly appeals for “caring for ecosystems with far-sightedness” [LS 36], because he firmly believes that “all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family” [LS 42]. According to the Pope, the care of richly bio-diverse areas is necessary for ensuring the equilibrium of the ecosystem and therefore of life, but often transnational economic interests obstruct this protection [cf. LS 38]
E. Breakdown of society [LS 43-47]: Current models of development adversely affect the quality of life of most of humanity showing “that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development” [LS 46], and as an example, the Pope points out that “many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water” [LS 44], becoming unlivable from a health point of view, while contact with nature is limited, except for areas reserved for a privileged few [LS 45].
F. Global inequality [LS 48-53]: “The deterioration of the environment and of society affect the most vulnerable people on the planet” [LS 48], the majority of the world’s population [LS 49]. According to the Pope “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” [LS 49]. The solution is not reducing the birth rate, but counteracting “an extreme and selective consumerism” of a small part of the world’s population [LS 50].
Having analyzed the current environmental situation briefly, Pope Francis shows himself to be deeply affected by the weak responses in the face of the tragedies of many people and populations [LS 53-59]. Although he admits that there is no lack of positive examples [LS 58], he feels that there is “complacency and a cheerful recklessness” [LS 59] in caring our common home; culture and adequate leadership are lacking as well as the willingness to change life style, production and consumption [LS 59]. He feels that there is an urgent need for “the establishment of a legal framework which can ensure the protection of ecosystems” [LS 53]. We can summarize the Pope’s concern and message of this chapter by recalling LS 34: “But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.”
4. The Gospel of Creation [LS 62-100]
In Chapter 2, The Gospel of Creation, Pope Francis calls for us to acknowledge creation as a gift from God, and to adopt a disposition of gratitude for this God’s gracious gift. According to him if we forget the role of God in the creation we may end up “usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot” [LS 75]. He says that “a spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and creator is not acceptable” [LS 75], and it will tempt us to trust in our own creative powers, leading to “the modern myth of unlimited material progress” [LS 78]. Failure to acknowledge God as the creator of the universe also leads to violence and oppression, and sees nature as mere raw material to be used can also treat “other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination” [LS 82]. Pope Francis warns that ‘God-forgetfulness’ is at the root of our global problems today: social, economic, and ecological. Therefore, the Pope categorically says that “we are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us…. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures” [LS 67].
At the outset of the chapter he clarifies the role of science and religion for curbing the ecological crises which he has already spelt out in the previous chapter: “Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with the convictions of believers? I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant… Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both” [LS 62]. He firmly believes that faith can also offer “ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters” [LS 64].
The Pope begins with explaining the meaning of the biblical accounts of creation [LS 65-75] and then meditates on the mystery of the universe [LS 76-83], which he sees as a continuing revelation of the Divine. According to him, the creation accounts in the Bible offer a comprehensive view that expresses the “tremendous responsibility” [LS 90] of humankind for creation, and he affirms that “the natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone” [LS 95]. He goes on emphasizing the interdependence and interconnectedness among all creatures: “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth [LS 95]. He concludes, “The earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone” [LS 93].
Pope Francis says that “the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected” [LS 93]. According to the Pope, the story of creation is key for reflecting on the relationship between human beings and other creatures: creations accounts “suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin” [LS 60]. The earth is a gift, not a possession; it was given to us to administer, not to destroy [cf. LS 76]. Hence, we must respect the laws of nature, as all of creation has its own goodness. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations [LS 67]. The mystery of the universe can be understood only by understanding “creation as a gift from the outstretched hand of Father of all” [LS 76].
In this universal communion, the human being, gifted with intelligence and personal identity, represents “a uniqueness” [LS 81].
What is the message of each creature in the harmony of all creation? And the answer is given in the statement: “Each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love” [LS 84]. This calls for a universal communion: “Called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect” [LS 89]. Likewise, the pope says that “a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings” [LS 91].
5. The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis [LS 101-136]
The third chapter, The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis. gives Pope Francis’ analysis of the human roots for the present ecological crisis. At the outset of the chapter itself he explains it:
“It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this? At this stage, I propose that we focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and of human action in the world” [LS 101].
Pope Francis begins with explaining the power of science and technology [LS 102-105]. He says that it is right to appreciate and recognize the benefits of technological progress for its contribution to sustainable development [cf. LS 102]. However, “humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads” [LS 102]. Although science and technology “can produce important means of improving the quality of human life” [LS 103], they have also “given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world” [LS 104].
Pope Francis says that we are fascinated with a technocratic paradigm, which promises unlimited growth [cf. LS 103]. However, this paradigm “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” [LS 106]. According to him those supporting this paradigm show “no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough” [LS 109]. “The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life” [LS 107].
However, the Pope says that we need “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint” [LS 105]. In fact, the modern technocratic paradigm gives humankind a tremendous power, but this has not been accompanied by “a development in human responsibility, values and conscience” [LS 105]. This ethical and spiritual void may lead to a lack of limitations to human acts. From this, it is easy to arrive at the idea of an infinite or unlimited growth, supported by the “false notion” [LS 106] that resources are unlimited. Technological products are not neutral, for “they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities” [LS 107]. Therefore, the Pope clearly states that “it can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society” [LS 107].
Pope Francis believes that the modern technocratic paradigm “has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilise them without being dominated by their internal logic” [LS 108]. And moreover this paradigm “tends to dominate economic and political life” [LS 109], expressing profit as the main logic behind the technological development, rather than sharing its benefits with others. The Pope says that “the economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” [LS 109]. Pope Francis sees a globalization of this technocratic paradigm [cf. LS 106-114]. Therefore, he says trusting technology alone to resolve every problem means “to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system” [LS 111], given “that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history” [LS 113]. So, we are faced with the urgency “to move forward in a bold cultural revolution … to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur” [LS 114], but for this we need to start from analyzing what man is [cf. LS 115-136].
Pope Francis undoubtedly articulates the interrelatedness and interdependence of man and nature when he says: “there can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology” [LS 118]. The human person cannot be seen just as one living organism among others. If we wish human beings to engage in taking care of the planet, we have to recognize and value “their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility” [LS 118]. Quoting from the Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World, the Pope says that modern anthropocentrism no longer recognizes nature as a valid norm and living refuge: “Modern anthropocentrism has paradoxically ended up prizing technical thought over reality, since “the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape” [LS 115]. His critique of a misguided anthropocentrism is not to promote an equally imbalanced “biocentrism,” but towards an “adequate anthropology” [LS 118] that keeps in first place “the importance of interpersonal relations” [LS 119] and the protection of all human life. Therefore, he says, “concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion” [LS 120].
According to the Pope, the modernity which marked the excessive anthropocentrism gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world [cf. LS 116]. Thus, we fail to understand the place of human beings in the world and our relationship with nature, while “our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship” [LS 116]. A misguided anthropocentrism “which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests” [LS 122] leads to relativism in practice and consequently a misguided lifestyle [cf. LS 122]. The Pope says that “there is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay” [LS 122]. “When the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided” [LS 123].
Further, Pope Francis emphasizes the role of human labour and ecology. He says, “Any approach to an integral ecology needs to take account of the value of labour” [LS 124]. A proper relationship between human beings and the world around us can be understood only when we see the meaning and purpose of human labour [LS 125], because the Pope believes that “we are created with a vocation to work” [LS 128], and therefore, “the goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity” [LS 128]. Everyone must be able to have work, because it is “part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment” [LS 128], while “to stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society” [LS 128]. In human labour, we see “many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living our values, relating to others, giving glory to God” [LS 127].
Pope Francis does not forget to express his concern over the new biological technologies which dehumanize the humanity. He states very clearly that “while human intervention on plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life ….. [it] is morally acceptable only “if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives” [LS 130]. According to him “the benefits of scientific and technological progress should enhance the nobility of the human vocation to participate responsibly in God’s creative action” [LS 131]. Referring to the genetically modified organisms (GMOs), he says that it is “a complex environmental issue” [LS 135]. Even though “in some regions their use has brought about economic growth which has helped to resolve problems, there remain a number of significant difficulties” [LS 134], starting from the fact that “the productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners” [LS 134]. Pope Francis thinks particularly of small producers and rural workers, of biodiversity, and the network of ecosystems. Therefore “a broad, responsible scientific and social debate needs to take place, one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name”, starting from “various lines of independent, interdisciplinary research” [LS 135]. Pope Francis ends the chapter by reminding us “the inalienable worth of human being” against the scientific development which disregards human life [LS 136].
6. Integral Ecology [LS 137-162]
The heart of the Encyclical’s proposals is integral ecology as a new paradigm of justice, and in this chapter Pope Francis is trying to spell out his integral vision of ecology. He begins by saying: “Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions” [LS 137]. This is what he sets as the goal of this social teaching at the beginning of the document: [it] “will help to provide an approach to ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings” [LS 15].
Pope Francis is very firm in saying that “nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live” [LS 139]. Rather, it involves a relationship with all fields: relationship between economics and sociology [LS 138-142]; relationship between global economics with local cultures, customs, and values [LS 143-146]; relationship between our living spaces, our daily life, and our own behavior/happiness [LS 147-154]; relationship between the way we think about our bodies and the way we think about the rest of creation [LS 155]; relationship between our current generation with future generations [LS 159-162].
6.1. Environmental, Economic, and Social Ecology [LS 138-142]
Pope Francis wants to communicate clearly that solutions to our global crises can no longer be credible unless we respect the relational and integral realities of our life. Therefore, he says “we urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision [LS 141], and it “demands an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” [LS 139] because according to the Pope there are not “two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both environmental and social” [LS 139]. Pope Francis perceives rightly that there is an inherent relationship between environmental issues, and social and human issues, that can never be broken. Therefore, he says, “today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, and of how individuals relate to themselves” [LS 141]. Fragmented and isolated knowledge must be integrated into a broader vision that considers “an interrelation between ecosystems and between the various spheres of social interaction” [LS 141], and also involves the institutional level, because “the health of a society’s institutions affects the environment and the quality of human life” [LS 142].Thus, the “integral ecology”, which Pope Francis proposes, requires the integration of the economic, social and cultural dimensions.
6.2. Cultural Ecology [LS 143-146]
Pope Francis rightly notes that “together with the patrimony of nature, there is also an historic, artistic, and cultural patrimony which is likewise under threat” [LS 143]. Therefore, the Pope says, in the broadest sense, “ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity” [LS 143]. The Pope further notes the influence of the present consumerist culture on the humanity: “A consumerist vision of human beings, encouraged by the mechanisms of today’s globalized economy, has a leveling effect on cultures, diminishing the immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity” [LS 144], and therefore he says that it is necessary to integrate the rights of peoples and cultures with the proactive involvement of local social actors from their own culture, with “particular concern for indigenous communities” [LS 146].
6.3. Ecology of Daily Life [LS 147- 155]
Pope Francis firmly believes that an integral ecology involves everyday life. He notices that “we make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy” [LS 147]. The Pope gives particular attention to the urban environment. The human being has a great capacity for adaptation, and “an admirable creativity and generosity is shown by persons and groups who respond to environmental limitations by alleviating the adverse effects of their surroundings and learning to live productively amid disorder and uncertainty” [LS 148]. According to the Pope, if there is a will, “any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life” [LS 148]. Nevertheless, authentic development presupposes an integral improvement in the quality of human life: public space, housing, transportation, etc. [LS 150-154]. In short, for Pope Francis human dimension of ecology also implies “the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature” [LS 155].
6.4. The Principle of the Common Good [LS 156-158]
Pope Francis clearly says that integral or human ecology “is inseparable from the notion of the common good” [LS 156], and it has “to do with the overall welfare of society” [LS 157]. In the contemporary world, where “injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable” [LS 158], and working for the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on “a preferential option for the poorest” [LS 158].
6.5. Justice between the Generations [LS 159-162]
The integral or human ecology also concerned with future generations. Therefore, Pope Francis says, “we can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity” [LS 159], and “inter-generational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those will follow us” [LS 159]. Moving one step ahead, the Pope also says, “in addition to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity” [LS 162]. It is here the Pope brings his special concern toward the poor in the society. He says that we cannot forget the poor of today “whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting” [LS 162], an instance to show our “intragenerational solidarity.” Quoting the Portuguese bishops’ conference’s pastoral letter, the Pope says, “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next” [LS 159]. It is here Pope Francis raises a very pertinent question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are growing up?” [LS 160]. We leave the words of the Pope unchanged, because they are touching in their comprehensiveness:
“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. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn” [LS 160].
7. Lines of Approach and Action [LS 163-201]
In this chapter, Pope Francis addresses the question of what we can and must do, and he suggests dialogue as a better way to begin with. For Pope Francis, it is imperative that practical proposals not be developed in an ideological, superficial or reductionist way. Here he proposes a dialogical approach where the Church can enter into an honest and open debate. He says: “There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. … The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate, so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good” [LS 188]. Thus, Pope Francis calls for dialogue on environmental policy in the international, national and local communities.
The Pope himself feels that analyses are not enough to find a solution, and therefore, he earnestly urges us to enter into the paths of committed action:
“So far I have attempted to take stock of our present situation, pointing to the cracks in the planet that we inhabit as well as to the profoundly human causes of environmental degradation. Although the contemplation of this reality in itself has already shown the need for a change of direction and other courses of action, now we shall try to outline the major paths of dialogue which can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us” [LS 163].
7.1. Dialogue on the Environment in the International Community [LS 164-175]
For Pope Francis, the motivation for the paths of dialogue is nothing but the interdependence and interrelatedness that we experience among the nations, and therefore he says the solution should be also arrived at global level: “Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan”, proposing solutions “from a global perspective, and not simply to defend the interests of a few countries” [LS 164]. The Pope’s suggestions are rather concrete and practical, and therefore he asks the international community to go for the immediate replacement of “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas” [LS 165]. He is not afraid to judge international dynamics severely: he says, “Recent World Summits on the environment have failed to live up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment” [LS 166]. He also challenges the selfish motives of certain international powers for blocking the welfare of the common good: “International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good” [LS 166]. According to the Pope what we need is forms and instruments for global governance [cf. LS 175]: “an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of the so-called ‘global commons’” [LS 174].
7.2. Dialogue for New National and Local Policies [LS 176-181]
Pope Francis affirms that questions related to the environment and economic development can be better addressed in the national and local levels [cf. LS 176]. He encourages the local community and their role in taking up initiatives that promote welfare of the environment: “Local individuals and groups … are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity’ [LS 179]. He also challenges nations and their leaders to move beyond short-term gain and results to what he calls “true statecraft,” that is when leaders “uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good” [cf. LS 178, 181]. He urges to promote new forms of cooperation and community organization to defend the interests of small producers and preserve local ecosystems from destruction [LS 180].
7.3. Dialogue and Transparency in Decision-Making [LS 182-188]
Pope Francis says very clearly that it is necessary to foster the development of honest and transparent decision-making processes, in order to “discern” which policies and business initiatives can lead to “genuine integral development” [LS 185]. In particular, the environmental impact study of a new project “demands transparent political processes involving a free exchange of views. On the other hand, the forms of corruption which conceal the actual environmental impact of a given project in exchange for favours usually produce specious agreements which fail to inform adequately and to allow for full debate” [LS 182]. I short, Pope Francis says that it is essential to analyze and evaluate business proposals from an environmental and social point of view so as not to harm the most disadvantaged populations [cf. LS 182-188].
7.4. Politics and Economy in Dialogue for Human Fulfillment [LS 189-198]
Pope Francis challenges the economic sector to move beyond thinking about maximization of profit at the expense of our planet and the poor. He says that considering the global crisis, “a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth” [LS 189] should be developed. The Pope makes it clear that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces” [LS 190]. More radically the Pope says that “redefining our notion of progress” [LS 194] is necessary to improve the real quality of people’s lives: “people’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth” [LS 194].
Pope Francis is convinced that “efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term” [LS 191]. He believes that “economics without politics cannot be justified” [LS 196]. At the same time, he exhorts “to keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity, which grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while also demanding a greater sense of responsibility for the common good from those who wield greater power” [LS 196]. He continues to urge the politicians that what we need “is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis” LS 197]. In short, investing for a more life-giving future will require, according to the Pope, vision in coming up with models of development, redefining our notion of progress, and a farsighted and interdisciplinary approach [LS 189-198].
7.5.Religions in Dialogue with Science [LS 199-201]
As a conclusion to the chapter, Pope Francis urges to integrate the insights of both religion and science. He reminds us that the empirical: sciences do not completely explain life, and technical solutions are ineffective [cf. LS 199-200], “if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well” [LS 200]. Religions must enter into “dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity” [LS201]. At the same time, dialogue among the sciences helps to overcome disciplinary isolation: “Dialogue among the various sciences is likewise needed, since each can tend to become enclosed in its own language, while specialization leads to a certain isolation and the absolutization of its own field of knowledge”[LS201]. Further, he asks us to have an open and respectful dialogue between the various ecological movements” [LS 201]. He concludes the chapter saying that dialogue requires patience, self-discipline and generosity, and always to keep in mind that “realities are greater than ideas” [LS 201].
8. Ecological Education and Spirituality [LS 202 -245]
The introductory paragraph of this chapter expresses Pope Francis’ vision for a future society. He says that we need to change and develop new convictions, attitudes and forms of life, including a new lifestyle. This requires not only individual conversion, but also community networks to solve the complex situation facing our world today. What is essential for this is to have a spirituality that can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world:
“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal” [LS 202].
8.1. Towards a New Lifestyle [LS 203-208]
Pope Francis calls for a change in the current development model which does not repeat the errors of today, so that we may have a sustainable future. According to him consumerism is the reflection of the technocratic paradigm, and “this paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume” and therefore he says, “we have too many means and only few insubstantial ends” [LS 203], and he continues: “the emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume” [LS 204]. However, he says that despite practical relativism and the consumer culture, “all is not lost. 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…No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God- given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours” [LS 205]. What is essential to have a change in lifestyle and such changes and consumer choices can bring much “pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power” [LS 206]. Quoting from the Earth Charter held in The Hague on 29 June 2000, Pope Francis calls for a new beginning: “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life” [LS 207]. One of the things that the Pope asks us to change immediately is our self-centered, self-absorptive, individualistic life style, and therefore, he says “If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop an alternative lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society” [LS 208].
8.2. Educating for the Covenant between Humanity and the Environment [LS209-215]
Pope Francis begins by saying that “an awareness of the gravity of today’s cultural and ecological crisis must be translated into new habits” [LS 209], and the role of environmental education cannot be overstated. Since many from the new generation “have grown up in a milieu of extreme consumerism and affluence which makes it difficult to develop other habits. We are faced with an educational challenge” [LS 209]. Environmental education, according to the Pope, should today include “a critique of the “myths” of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market). It seeks also to restore the various levels of ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God. Environmental education should facilitate making the leap towards the transcendent which gives ecological ethics its deepest meaning. It needs educators capable of developing an ethics of ecology, and helping people, through effective pedagogy, to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care” [LS 210]. The Pope also warns us saying that this sort of environmental education should go beyond providing information [cf. LS 211], but it should be able to affect our daily actions and habits, such as the reduction of water consumption, the sorting of waste and even “turning off unnecessary lights” etc. [LS 211]. Pope Francis ends this section by reminding us that “our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market” [LS 215].
8.3. Ecological Conversion [LS 216-221]
In this section, Pope Francis calls for an “ecological conversion” [LS 217] which brings froth an “ecological spirituality.” Probably the core message of the Encyclical rests in the suggestions of “ecological spirituality” offered in LS 216: “a spirituality capable of inspiring us, without an “interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity.” Faith and Christian spirituality offer profound motivations toward “a more passionate concern for the protection of our world” [LS 216]. Pope Francis says very clearly that “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” [LS 217]. Therefore, all are called to “experience a conversion, or change of heart” [LS 218], and one of the dimensions of such an experience of conversion is to cultivate a “healthy relationship with creation” [LS 218], and“achieving reconciliation with creation” [LS 218]. Moreover, the Pope says that “this conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness… gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift” [LS 220], and consequently it creates “a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion” [LS 220]. However, the Pope also says that personal change is not only enough, but also it has to “address the social problems” [LS 219], and consequently the ecological conversion also needs to bring about lasting community conversion [cf. LS 219]. Pope Francis ends this section with a wish that shows our interrelatedness with the creation and the world: “May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us” [LS 221].
8.4. Joy and Peace [LS 222-227]
The “ecological spirituality” that he has spelt out is now specifically applied to some of the aspects of Christian spirituality, namely joy and peace [cf. LS 222-227]. “Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. … the conviction that “less is more” [LS 222]. He continues: “Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack” [LS 222]. And the Pope says “such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating” [LS 223], and “it is a way of living life to the full” [LS 223]. Similarly, “happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer” [LS 223]. While explaining the need of inner peace in our life, the pope says, “no one can cultivate a sober and satisfying life without being at peace with him or herself” [LS 225]. He further says, “inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life” [LS 225]. The Pope reiterates what he has already stated in Evangelii Gaudium: “An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered” [LS 225].
8.5. Civic and Political Love [LS 228-232]
Pope Francis proposes “civilization of love” [LS 231] as the overarching paradigm, as the best means for caring ‘our common home.’ He begins by saying: “care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion” [LS 228]. He emphasizes the role of “universal fraternity” [LS 228], and thus a “shared responsibility for others and the world” [LS 229]. According to the Pope, this will encourage a “culture of care” to permeate all society, an assumption of responsibilities to take care of the planet and of the quality of life of all, and in particular to take care of the poorest members of society [LS 231]. In this regard Pope Francis, says that “an integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” [LS 230]. In short, considering the civic and political dimensions, Pope Francis makes “civilization of love” as the outstanding expressions of charity: “love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions” of charity [LS 231].
In the rest of the numbers in the Encyclical Pope Francis calls Christians to see ‘creation’ as part of their spirituality and celebration of Christian life, for example LS 233-237 deal with sacramental signs and the celebration of rest in the creation. Christians encounter God not only in intimacy, but also in the contemplation of creation which bears a sign of his mystery, and in the participation of the sacramental life. LS 238-240 reveal the relationship between Trinity and the Creatures. “For Christians, believing in one God who is Trinitarian communion, suggests that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation” [LS 239]. The human person is also called to assume the Trinitarian dynamism, going out of oneself “to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures” [LS 240]. LS 241-242 unravel how Mother Mary and Holy Family become a role model for caring ‘our common home’. In the last section [LS 243-245] Pope expresses his hope that our efforts to care for creation will bear their fruits: “Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope” [LS 244]. The God, whom we believe remains deeply present to us, united to our earth in love, will give us strength and light needed to find our way and “impel us to find new ways forward” [LS 245]. Our struggles and concerns do not take away the joy of hope [LS 244] because “in the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present” [LS 245]. “At the conclusion of this lengthy reflection which has been both joyful and troubling” (LS 246), Pope Francis proposes that “we offer two prayers: A prayer for our earth and a Christian prayer in union with creation [LS 246], prayers which reveal the beauty of God’s creation.
As we have seen above, in Laudato Si’ Pope Francis invites us to turn our minds, hearts and actions toward nature and respect the value God created in it. He recalls more than once in the Encyclical that “our mission is to be co-operators with God in His continuing creation of the world,” and for him this is the reason why we must protect nature for a reason greater and higher than our own personal self-interest. As Cardinal Peter Turkson says, Laudato Si’ “is not some narrow agenda for the greening [of] the Church or the world. It is a vision of care and protection that embraces the human person and the human environment in all possible dimensions.”4 It is a manifesto of integral ecology to save this planet for rich and poor, young and old, and everyone who inhabits this planet.
Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ clearly articulates that the care for ‘our common home’ serves as a “horizon of hope” against greed, arrogance, domination, manipulation and the exploitation of the Earth as well as the rights of people, their dignity and human rights. To make this point clear, Pope Francis equates the protection of nature with the protection of human rights and claims that national and international societies can secure both by safeguarding the gift of creation for all, especially the most vulnerable. Thus, in this Encyclical ‘on the care for our common home’ the Pope has integrated questions of justice and equality so that we can hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. Therefore, in Laudato Si’ he challenges the values of rampant consumerism, unrestrained faith in technology, blind pursuit of profits, political shortsightedness and the economic inequalities that force the world’s poor to bear the brunt of an imbalanced ecosystem.
Laudato Si’ exhibits a brilliant display of science and values based reasoning for the care for our common home. It shows how we must assimilate integrity of ecosystems and integrity of human life because very many times Pope Francis exhorted that it is “no longer enough to speak only of the integrity of ecosystems,” but also “we have to dare to speak of the integrity of human life.” Thus, Laudato Si’ proposes an integral ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings, and an eco-spirituality that can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world. In short, Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ cannot be reduced to an ‘environmental’ or ‘climate’ document, but it should be considered as a gospel of the ‘creation’, which is challenged and disfigured by human greed and selfishness.
1. This Encyclical can be accessed in the official Vatican text (in English) here.
2. The numbers in square brackets refer to the numbered paragraphs of the Encyclical Letter. Even though most papal documents are addressed to the bishops of the Church or the lay faithful, Pope Francis addressed this message to all people.
3. Canticle of the Creatures, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol 1, New York – London – Manila, 1999, 113-114. It is the only social encyclical with a vernacular title (Italian) rather than Latin.
4. Cardinal Peter Turkson, “Integral Ecology and the Horizon of Hope: Concern for the Poor and For Creation in the Ministry of Pope Francis,” Excerpts from the Trócaire 2015 Lenten Lecture delivered at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland.
Thomas Karimundackal SJ is a lecturer at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, the name given to the Pontifical Athenaeum of Philosophy and Religion in Pune, India and he can be reached through his email: [email protected]