Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment would be hard to reduce, in mathematical fashion, to lowest terms. But, for the sake of those who may never have a chance to read it, it may prove helpful to highlight some of its key ideas.
From the outset, the Holy Father wields a double-edged sword. He begins by quoting the God-praising and creation-affirming “Canticle of the Sun,” a famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
Then, in a quick turn, he laments what he terms humanity’s “irresponsible use and abuse” of the natural world.
It is clear that Pope Francis agrees with a diagnosis proclaimed some 25 years ago by the Physicians for Social Responsibility when they voiced concern that our planet is in critical condition.
Here are some of the things which His Holiness calls us to do as we search for a remedy:
- Take an honest look at how our choices and actions today affect the future of the earth;
- acknowledge that carelessness and greed have damaged the world of nature and deeply hurt the poor;
- confront the compelling evidence that climate change is happening and that both natural and human causes make it likely that we will be faced with people who will become environmental refugees;
- recognize that access to clean, fresh water is a human right and not a commodity for marketing;
- preserve biodiversity, especially by caring for the health of the Amazon and Congo River basins;
- respect the interconnections and interdependence among species, human and non-human;
- realize that urban sprawl and round-the-clock technology both tend to isolate us from nature and depersonalize and desensitize us;
- hear God’s call for personal conversion, civic action, and what His Holiness calls “a cultural revolution” that will resist what previous popes and bishops have called a culture of death;
- focus on the needs of families and the living conditions needed to foster wellbeing;
- renounce wastefulness, selfishness, over-consumption, and demands for instant gratification;
- engage in a vigorous quest for non-polluting, renewable sources of energy;
- and exercise responsible citizenship by working to build societies which are not driven and manipulated by economic interests but, rather, are dedicated to human persons, human dignity, and wise stewardship of our God-given gifts.
Pope Francis makes it clear, in line with magisterial voices before him, that wise use of the goods of planet Earth is a moral imperative. He issues a tall order.
Again, like pontiffs before him, he closes with a prayer:
“O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth. …
Bring healing to our lives that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. …
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation . . . as we journey towards your infinite light.”
By Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM