With the papal visit to the United States last week, it is timely to think about Pope Francis’s offering in his encyclical letter: Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home.
I recently visited the Vatican and spent some time reading about the church and its past and current policies. As part of this effort to understand the role of the Pope and his efforts to influence world policy and encourage actions, I read the 99-page encyclical letter. I am not catholic and do not pretend to understand the church orthodoxy or culture. I nonetheless read the letter with interest and found that, regardless of your religious beliefs, you will find Laudato Si’ powerful—as both an inspiring and very thoughtful and intellectual collection of ideas and themes that probe the special relationship between people and our planet.
Most of the media attention around the encyclical has focused on the politics surrounding climate change or the economic divide between the northern and southern hemisphere. To me, the more salient and pervasive thoughts offered by the encyclical emerged around our common home and how society interacts with the places we live. Here, the church demonstrates a deep respect for the places we live and urges us to think differently—an integral ecology– about our vital relationship with the earth and our surrounding landscape.
Several vignettes from the encyclical include:
“When we speak of the environment, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (¶139)
He adds that “authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system.” (¶5)
When proselytizing on ecosystems, it discusses how we need to take “these systems into account not only to determine how best to use them, but also because they have an intrinsic value independent of their usefulness.” (¶140)
For water, he emphasizes that “fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensible for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture and industry.” (¶28)
He also explores the ecology of daily life in a fascinating way, starting with recognition that “we were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.” (¶44) “Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives. These settings influence the way we think, feel and act…We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.” (¶147) This suggests the importance of making connections between people in our increasingly urbanizing world and the rural working landscapes and nature.
At a broader philosophical level, it is interesting to me that at certain points in the journey through the encyclical, it seems as if the church is flirting with Pantheism and is weaving this into the fundamental principles of Christianity.
Laudato Si’ can be found at: w2.vatican.va