Green encyclical excites

a word from bishop les 2 350px

There is much excitement and discussion about the recently released encyclical Laudato Si.

A Papal Encyclical is the name typically given to a circular letter written by the Pope to all Bishops, so they may circulate it to all the parishes in the Diocese they lead.
Laudato si: on the care of our common home, is the first Encyclical of the Pontificate of Pope Francis.

“Everything is connected,” the Pope writes. “Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined with a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

In the coming months this encyclical will lead to action and much more information will be available. My aim here is to provide a background and brief overview so that we might set a true context in which to commence an in-depth study and understanding of the aims and purposes of this important communication from our Pope.

For your reference, I have included numbers to correspond to the part of the encyclical from which I have taken material.

Pope Francis had announced his intention to promulgate an environmental encyclical shortly after his election. The first draft was prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and there were many Church leaders, such as the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who contributed to the draft.

After repeated revision and review by the Secretariat of State (in view of the political implications) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (because of the theological positions) the final version was ready in March 2015. Since then the document has been translated into different languages for its publication.
The Encyclical takes its name from the invocation of Saint Francis of Assisi, “Praise be to you, my Lord” which in the Canticle of the Creatures reminds us that the earth, our common home, “is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us” (1).

We see right at the very core of this new encyclical the question which we must all ask of ourselves: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (160).

Furthermore, Pope Francis explains: “This question does not have to do with the environment alone and in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal. This leads us to ask ourselves about the meaning of existence and its values at the basis of social life: “What is the purpose of our life in this world? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” “Unless we struggle with these deeper issues – says the Pope – I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results” (160).

Today this earth, mistreated and abused, is lamenting; and its groans join those of all the forsaken of the world. Pope Francis invites us to listen to them, urging each and every one – individuals, families, local communities, nations and the international community – to an “ecological conversion” in the expression of Saint John Paul II. We are invited to “change direction” by taking on the beauty and responsibility of the task of “caring for our common home”.

Happily, Pope Francis recognises that “there is a growing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet.” (19).

A ray of hope flows through the entire Encyclical, which gives a clear message: “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (13).

“Men and women are still capable of intervening positively” (58). “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” (205).

The Encyclical is divided into six chapters. It starts by presenting the current situation based on the best scientific findings available today
(Ch. 1), followed by a review of the Bible and Judeo-Christian tradition
(Ch. 2). The root of the problems in technocracy and in an excessive self-centeredness of human beings are analysed
(Ch. 3). The Encyclical then proposes
(Ch.4) an “integral ecology, which clearly respects its human and social dimensions” (137), inextricably linked to the environmental question.

In this perspective, Pope Francis proposes (Ch. 5) to initiate an honest dialogue at every level of social, economic and political life that builds transparent decision-making processes.

Recalling that no project can be effective if it is not animated by a formed and responsible conscience

(Ch. 6), ideas are put forth to aid growth in this direction at the educational, spiritual, ecclesial, political and theological levels.

The document is a call to conversion and action. While Laudato Si fits perfectly within Catholic tradition, it is saying with new force that concern for the environment is no longer “optional” for a believer. Caring for the environment is now even more clearly and surely part of the Church teaching. Archbishop Hart summed this up quite simply by saying “the Pope has put it front and centre that climate change and the needs of our world have to be part of the program of all Catholics”. (Interview on Lateline, June 18)

- Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, October, 2015

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