Headline: Laudato Si and Cosmic Transformation

Posted on: 2015-06-24

The papal act

Every Pope in Christendom has his own peculiar point of endearment among peoples all over the world. Saint John Paul II deeply touched our generation with great pastoral solicitude, travelling the world to bring the gospel to the nooks and crannies of the universe. No less did he impress with his large corpus of thoughts and teaching covering a wide spectrum of issues through encyclicals, letters and apostolic exhortations. Enthralled by the magnitude of his achievement, many doubted if the Church would see another great Pope within the century. Then came Benedict XVI with his immense, academic and intellectual capacity, taking on the scientific and relativist West with predictable but dazzling cerebral and spiritual profundity. The icing on the cake came when he opted to resign from the papacy, many centuries after any pope had dared to do so. That action temporarily stunned even top Church prelates and precipitating predictions about the implications of his action for the future of the Church. Some fortune tellers pronounced the beginning of the end of the Church which would have to cope with "two Popes" So far however, the sea is calm on that front and pope Benedict seems to have been proven right.

The Francis effect

Pope Francis came in a rather different mould. The Holy Father's capacity to touch relevant chords even among skeptics of religion is unprecedented around the world. Some media organizations named him "Man of the Year" within the very first year of his papacy. The Pew Research center recently reported that Pope Francis enjoys 84 per cent approval rating in Europe. Popes, of course, do not pander to opinion polls nor do they work by popularity votes. Yet, Pope Francis consistently takes up issues that interest millions, controversial as they  might be as his papacy unfolds. His choice of themes and pastoral style, while drawing criticisms, challenge the faithful and faithless alike. His projects, the Year of Consecrated Life, the Synod on the Family and the Year of Mercy, deep down all hint at a desire to transform the world through the Church he inherited. Now on Thursday June 18th Pope Francis released his encyclical on the ecology entitled "Laudato Si", (Praised be to you), which in his own words is "on care for our common home", the earth. Fr Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit priest and editor at the Ignatius Press, an early commentator on the encyclical, had this to say: "Don't be fooled by the headlines. This encyclical is not about climate change—though the Holy Father accepts the currently dominant opinion on it. It's about heart change, an 'integral ecology' that recognizes that 'We are not God' and proposes 'redefining our notion of progress' and adopting a 'responsible simplicity of life, in grateful contemplation of God's world, and in concern for the needs of the poor and the protection of the environment'."

The earth and its fullness

Laudato Si has long been expected. Many people have praised this initiative while others condemn it as "mere Church interference in scientific matters". Many other individuals, groups and organizations have earlier spoken up on the ecology and the environment. Many policies and decisions have been taken to reverse what has been termed a looming ecological disaster hanging on the entire world and humanity. Pope Francis however emphasizes that much of such decisions and actions have often been half-hearted, partial and at best aimed at self interest. He therefore decided to take on the theme which his predecessors had also in some measure addressed before him. Pope Francis then describes the earth today as a gift from God which human beings have continued to abuse and violate by policies and actions, driven by greed and negligence manifested in pollution, waste and a "throwaway culture". He called for a moral transformation which recognizes the patronage of God in the gift of the earth's resources and a response from man which establishes justice, concern for the poor and a respectful relationship with other people and with the earth itself. Borrowing from St. Francis of Assisi, he called the earth "our sister", one which “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her”. He declared, "the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth". The entire encyclical pushed for a general moral transformation in relationships attitudes and action

Speaking for the defenseless

Pope Francis in reality seeks nothing but justice for the defenseless of both humanity and nature. According to him, human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together. We cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest". He addressed the injustice inherent in the effort to turn the world around too. "Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. In summary Laudato Si covers a wide spectrum of ecological challenges in abundant detail. It is a formidable challenge to modern capitalism of crass profit the Pope's demand for moral responsibility and transformation in the relationship between man and man and man and nature. It is a clarion call that the time to rescue our world and save its fullness is now, before things get out of hand.