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St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle, which sings
of other creatures as our brothers and
sisters, begins by addressing God with the
words “Praise to you.” Pope Francis opens
his new encyclical with these same words,
in their original early Italian form, Laudato
si’. The encyclical is a prophetic call to
the leaders of nations and to all people of
good will to act to protect the planetary
community of life. It challenges the Church
to a profound ecological conversion.
Building on the earlier work of John Paul
II and Benedict XVI, it brings ecology to
the centre of Catholic social teaching,
along with commitment to poor and
vulnerable human beings. I will highlight
just four themes from this wonderfully rich,
important and beautiful document.
Earth as our common home
Pope Francis sees Earth as our common
home, a beautiful gift of God, a home to
be shared by humans and other creatures,
a home for future generations, which we
are meant to care for and protect. But
wounded by sin, we have treated Earth
with violence and laid waste to it. Pope
Francis invites us all into a dialogue about
ways in which we might respond to what is
happening to our common home.
In particular he offers an analysis of
pollution and global warming, the
looming crisis of fresh water, the loss of
biodiversity, along with the decline in the
quality of human life, breakdown of society
and global inequality. He calls all of us
into a deep recognition that we need to
respond to these issues as part of the one
community of life on Earth.
The universal communion of creation
The biblical teaching on creation, Pope
Francis tells us, points to the goodness
of the whole creation. It tells us that
other creatures have value in themselves,
because they have value in God’s eyes.
God loves them. The psalms sing of the
community of all creatures joined together
in praising God. All creatures have their
own place and their own meaning. Each
is the expression of divine love. All are our
brothers and sisters – none are excluded:
“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 son, sister moon,
brother river and mother earth” (par. 92).
God’s love for creation finds its deepest
expression in self-giving of the incarnation,
in the Word made flesh in Jesus of
Nazareth. Jesus loved the creatures of
Earth he found around him, birds, flowers,
seeds growing into trees, and he loved
human beings. He loved us all to the very
point of death on a cross. Through his
death and resurrection, the risen Christ
draws to final fulfilment not only human
beings but the whole of creation.
Integral ecology can be seen as the central
idea of the encyclical. We face not two
crises, the ecological crisis and a human
crisis of the poor and the excluded, but
one inter-related crisis that involves both.
Our response will need to be holistic,
based on a broad vision of reality that
involves human beings as well as the other
creatures of our planet.
We find inspiration for this kind of
integration in St Francis of Assisi, in his
love for the poor and his love for the other
creatures of the natural world. As Pope
Francis has said right from the beginning
of his pontificate, we are called to protect
creation, and to protect our human
brothers and sisters, above all those who
are poor and excluded.
We human beings are part of the natural
world. Our ecological vocation is to act
for the good of the whole community of
creation: “Everything is interconnected.
Concern for the environment thus needs
to be joined to a sincere love for our
fellow human beings and an unwavering
commitment to resolving the problems of
society” (par. 91).
Political and personal action
Pope Francis engages political leaders
in dialogue, asking them to accept
responsibility for protecting the
environment and calling them to support
international agreements aimed at limiting
carbon emissions and at lifting people out
He also points to the importance of
embracing ways of acting, “such as
avoiding the use of plastic and paper,
reducing water consumptions, separating
refuse, cooking only what can reasonably
be consumed, showing care for other
living beings, using public transport or
car-pooling, planting trees, turning off
unnecessary lights” (par. 211). He calls us
all to an ongoing ecological conversion, to
a spirituality of love and respect for other
animals, and their habitats, for the land,
the seas, the rivers, in the one community
of life on Earth.
Prophetic call to protect the planet
Continued from page 1.
Catholic Earthcare Australia director
Jacqui Remond said Laudato Si’ was
“an inspiration and a game-changer”. “It
offers us in Australia a powerful moral and
spiritual imperative for environmental and
social action,” she said.
“This encyclical calls on us all to embrace
a new lifestyle that respects all of creation,
and asks our leaders to commit to effective
Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Chairman of the
Bishops Commission for Justice, Ecology
and Development, said the Pope took
up the line that we were stewards, not
destroyers, of creation.
“Some of the media are describing it
as an epic intervention in the ecology
debate,” he said. “I’m sure it will put a lot
of heart into those working for responsible
treatment of the world.”
Bishop O’Kelly said you just had to look at
pollution, deforestation and the poisoning
of water systems to see that action was
President of the Australian Religious
Response to Climate Change, Thea
Ormerod, said the release of the encyclical
was deliberately timed with a view to
influencing the outcome of the United
Nations Climate Change Conference to be
held in Paris in December.
“The implications for Australia’s role at
climate talks are unmistakable, given
that our negotiators have been blocking
consensus in order to protect our narrowly
defined short-term national self-interest,”
Caritas Australia CEO Paul O’Callaghan
also called on the Australian Government
to show strong leadership in protecting the
environment and to play a constructive role
at the Paris conference.
He noted the encyclical’s emphasis
on the poorest and most marginalised
communities who would bear the brunt of
“The World Bank estimates that 80 percent
of the human and financial damage due
to climate change will occur in poor
countries,” he said.
The encyclical also calls for an “integral
ecology” which includes taking time to
“recover a serene harmony with creation,
reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals”.
The Pope says one expression of this
attitude is stopping and giving thanks
to God before and after meals. “I ask
all believers to return to this beautiful
and meaningful custom...it strengthens
our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of
creation; it acknowledges those who by
their labours provide us with these goods;
and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in
greatest need,” he says.
Adelaide Vicar General Father Philip
Marshall said the encyclical was a major
event in the life of the Church and planning
was underway for special celebrations in
parish Masses on October 4, the Feast
of St Francis of Assisi, and on October
25 when an outdoor festival for the wider
Church would be held.
The encyclical is available at http://
Pope’s wake-up message hits home
Adelaide priest Father Denis Edwards has
devoted much of his life to the study of, and
writings on, the theology of ecology. Here
he gives his initial thoughts on the encyclical
DOING THEIR BIT: To mark the encyclical’s release, Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ visited
St Francis of Assisi Primary School at Newton where he learnt of the students’
green initiatives, including their Bokashi composting system. Food scraps are
collected by each class and after a fermenting process are used to fertilise the
school’s trees and plants. Bishop O’Kelly is pictured with Year 7 students Gianni
Bergamin, Michael Callisto, and Olivia Ruggiero.
Photo: Nat Rogers
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