By Owen Phelps. Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
Saturday, May 16, marks the start of Laudato Si’ Week, scheduled by the Vatican to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.
The encyclical was dated May 24, 2015 and officially published at a new conference on June 18. Its title, Laudato si’, translates as “Praise Be to You!” in English.
In it the pope calls for a “new mindset” regarding humanity’s relationship to the earth and all of its resources. He calls on people to think of themselves as stewards – those who care for a resource they have been given on loan from God.
He says of humanity’s view of the Earth: “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” As a result, as technology has developed rapidly over the past 200 years, we have turned the Earth into “an immense pile of filth.”
Quoting Pope St. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope Francis writes: “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.’'
In effect, Pope Francis joins Pope St. John Paul II in calling for a profound conversion of both Catholics and all the other humans with whom we share the Earth.
Pope Francis addresses the issue of caring for the planet and creating a sustainable society and economy in six chapters:
- What is happening in our common home;
- The Gospel of creation;
- The human roots of the ecological crisis;
- Integral ecology;
- Lines of approach and action;
- Ecological education and spirituality.
The encyclical has met a mixed reception in the U.S., where issues of environmental impact have been heavily politicized. But it has been generally well received among members of the scientific community.
Religious leaders, both Christian and non-Christian, also took the opportunity to praise it.
In many places the encyclical addresses matters of public policy and government oversight, but it also deals with issues driven by individual behavior.
The pope criticizes consumerism, materialism and a “throw-away” perspective that leads to greater consumption and waste.
Quoting the bishops of South Africa, he says: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.”
Time to reflect
As people around the globe huddle in their homes and seek ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from the dreaded coronavirus that has claimed almost 300,000 lives globally since the start of the year, it’s a good time to reflect on our own personal relationships with the only planet we know capable of sustaining human life.
Speaking personally, I was quite moved by the scope and depth of the pope’s encyclical – and very pleased that he consistently communicates in a remarkably clear and concise manner. His teaching is certainly worthy of our time attention and serious consideration, no matter what our political outlook or view of environmental issues happen to be.
I came away from reading the encyclical with a fresh realization that not everything is about politics – or at least everything shouldn’t be.
And if there is anything that should transcend the often petty and self-serving realm of political discourse, it is the matter of how we should understand and treat our singularly vital relationship with our planet.
If you’re looking for something to read and to help you focus while you shelter at home, I couldn’t recommend anything more important and helpful than Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.