Laudato Si: Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter

by Ray Grigg

The Encyclical Letter from Pope Francis, entitled Laudato Si, was released at noon on June 18, 2015, to Catholics around the world and “to every person who inhabits this planet”. Translated as “Praised Be”, it is a clear reference to a canticle written in honour of “Mother Earth” by the Pope’s 13th century namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi.

The state of the planet’s environmental health is a prime concern of the encyclical, in which socio-economic justice is linked directly to ecological abuse. To emphasize the point, one of the many dignitaries invited to the press conference following the release was Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate.

Klein was struck by the symbolism of her invitation. The encyclical, she said, is part of “a huge shift in the level of engagement in the [climate change] issue. Indeed, the encyclical is subtitled, “On Care For Our Common Home”.

Remove the encyclical from the context of the Catholic Church, delete some of the Christian terminology, and it reads like a tract from worried environmentalists, concerned economists, alarmed scientists, anxious academics, or uneasy philosophers, all of whom are beginning to question the viability of civilization as it is presently structured. In an assessment of humanity’s current conduct, Francis writes,

“We have come to see ourselves as [Mother Earth’s] lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will… reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’.”

The encyclical refers to these “wicked problems” as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity. “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation”. It proposes “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.” It then observes, with the holistic vision of a poet, “that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since the book of nature is one and indivisible.”

Much of the encyclical’s inspiration, conviction, imagery and power draws from Saint Francis, whose “response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection.”

We desperately need to cultivate these “bonds of affection” if we are to survive within the miracle of this remarkably living, beautiful and sacred planet. Pope Francis’s encyclical is a plea for this affection, for a caring and loving relationship with each other, and with our only “home” in “creation”.

As a document, the encyclical is comprehensive, commanding, credible, insightful, honest, frank, compassionate and eloquent, but also moral, ethical, poetic and spiritual — a masterpiece arriving as it is sorely needed. It is the Church at its best, revealing that its deepest aspirations for a just, safe and healthy world are those of all humanity.