With the release of Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical on creation, “Laudato Si,” the Sun asked several experts for their thoughts on the document. Here, Sister Caryn Cook, OSF — former biological technician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Franciscan ecology coordinator at Alverna Heights, and current vocation minister for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities — offers her take.
Catholic Sun: What are your thoughts on Pope Francis choosing to write on the topic of care for creation? Why do you think he chose this topic for his first major document?
Sister Caryn Crook: “When I heard that Pope Francis was writing an encyclical on the environment I was so excited. Finally, the Church is addressing our baptismal call to care for creation. What I found was so much more.”
CS: What are your thoughts on Pope Francis choosing to write on the topic of care for creation? Why do you think he chose this topic for his first major document?
CC: “The encyclical is not one topic but almost all the social and ecological ills of the world interconnected in one term, integral ecology. Culture, society, ecology, economics and human rights are all interconnected. Our relationship with God, one another and creation is broken and needs addressing. This is the topic of the encyclical — to become mindful of our actions or lack of actions and to wake up and do something about it.”
CS: What are your initial reactions to the document? What stands out? What were you surprised by? What resonated most?
CC: “It sounds as if the spirit of St. Francis has written this encyclical. Pope Francis points out our role in the injustice occurring around the world in a manner that wakes us up, without causing defensiveness. He calls all people accountable and leaves no one out. From multinational corporations to countries, to cities, to individual people, we all contribute to the injustices, either by our actions or lack thereof. It is not an authoritative lecture on what is good and what is bad, but a pleading with the entire people of the earth to wake up and do something. If anyone who has read this encyclical doesn’t feel remorse they have missed the Pope’s point.”
“It’s the first time I heard the [term] integral ecology. It is what I call Franciscan ecology. Pope Francis writes of St. Francis, “He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.” Without interior peace we try and fill it with stuff. Consumerism is the symptom of our broken relationships and Pope Francis calls us to restore our relationship with God, with others and all creation filling us with love and peace.”
CS: Drawing on your particular areas of expertise and experience, why is this document important?
CC: “This document is important because it calls for unity of the whole world, religions, peoples, cultures, to address the issues so that together we can rid the world of injustice, ecological devastation and poverty.”
CS: What should we take away from this document? And how do we put it into action?
CC: “The last section of the encyclical outlines what we can do to implement the Pope’s teaching. How do I view my role in this world? Do I have excessive use of technology that disrupts my relationship with others? How can I cut down on my use of electricity, water and material goods? How can I advocate for justice, peace and ecological health? Do I take care of my health and treat my own self with respect as a beloved child of God? Mostly the encyclical calls us to wake up and do something and to call our elected officials to do something, to come together as a world people to do something. We are called to enter into the world’s conversations on economy, ecology, society and justice and to support world initiatives to address climate change so that poverty, injustice and ecological devastation are addressed.”