Following up on the release of the Papal encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home earlier this year, Pope Francis designated September 1 within the Catholic Church as “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” (shout out to the Orthodox Church, which has been observing this day of prayer since 1989). While Seattle Pacific’s roots are distinctively Wesleyan, we also consider ourselves whole-heartedly ecumenical, believing that our faith can be enriched and our learning increased when we listen to voices from a variety of denominations. And indeed here, in relation to the Pope’s emphasis on environmental stewardship, there is much to be gleaned.
For you non-Catholic, non-theology majors, a papal encyclical is a written teaching focusing on a particular doctrinal issue, usually addressed to leaders within the Catholic Church. Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”) is unique because it is addressed to the entire world, not just bishops or Catholics. It’s also unique because it is unheard of for a major religious leader to place care for creation so centrally to what it means to be Christian, or for that matter, what it means to be human. That Pope Francis chose this topic for his first encyclical speaks volumes.
There are a number of fantastic summaries of Laudato Si’—and in fact, this post was inspired by one of them—but there’s enough content in the encyclical that I thought it was worth spending a few posts summarizing and reflecting on it.
The Pope’s list of current problems includes pollution and climate change, the issue of water (is it clean? who has access?), loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society, global inequality, and weak responses. This is just all in chapter one, and it is really sobering and difficult to read. There are just so many problems to tackle and taking a step back and letting them sink in is tough. The Pope also takes aim at economics-centered thinking, stating that “when nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society,” consequences that are evident in the current issues we face.
What gives me the most hope though is that, as a Christian, the tenants of my faith provide both deep motivation to change these issues and direction on how to go about bringing change. The Pope notes this when he comments on “the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity.” He goes on to state that, “Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated. Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.” As a nursing major, I am particularly fond of science, so these statements are powerful to encouraging me and others to include both faith and science in our dialogue about change.
The statements that struck me the most and I think are some of the beautiful beliefs of Christianity is that there is an “immense dignity of each person” that is here on Earth, and that “each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” to this planet. The vision of the Imago Dei (being created in the image of God) gives humanity such amazing worth and awesome opportunity as a group of beings. Yet the Pope reminds us if we get too caught up in how awesome we are, then there is neglect for other creatures also beautiful and meaningful to God. “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.” To me, this manifests in caring about ecosystems and doing my best to reduce waste that will end up harming sea life, as well as being concerned about pollution and changing my habits so that the air we all breathe is a bit better. Caring about animals and plants (and even fungi) does not have to mean putting it above other people, but instead people can work together to discuss, learn, and educate each other on solutions that are beneficial for all creatures. Some further words of wisdom included are that “everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice, and faithfulness to others.” By doing good for others, we are also benefiting ourselves, which is awesome! It doesn’t have to be a battle or a trade-off, but positive environmental and social changes can be a win-win.
 Technically speaking, Laudato Si is Francis’ second encyclical, but the first, released shortly after his ascension to the papacy, was largely written by his predecessor Benedict XVI. Laudato Si is considered to be the first encyclical written entirely by Francis.