Five years ago, Pope Francis wrote an encyclical letter, a teaching, titled “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” This document is particularly noteworthy because it is seen as a prophetic document not just for Roman Catholics, but for the entire world community.
“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” — “Praise be to you, my Lord.” These are the words that open Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology and care for God’s creation. These words, quoting St. Francis of Assisi’s beautiful canticle, remind us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’ was released in June 2015. Five years later, in 2020, Pope Francis has invited Catholics and all people of good will to celebrate its fifth anniversary by taking a renewed look at the document and its teachable moments. Particularly important is its call for the protection of families and future generations through actions which care for our common home: planet Earth.
Here are themes that Pope Francis highlighted in Laudato Si’ which require our crucial response today:
• Care for God’s creation. God created the world and entrusted it to us as a gift. Now we have the responsibility to care for and protect it and all people, who are part of creation. Protecting human dignity is strongly linked to care for creation.
• Impact on the poor. People in poverty have contributed least to climate change, yet they are disproportionately impacted by it. As a result of excessive use of natural resources by wealthy nations, those who are poor experience pollution, lack of access to clean water, hunger, and more.
• Called to solidarity. We are one human family and have a shared responsibility for others and for creation. Wealthy countries have a responsibility to reduce consumption of nonrenewal resources and should help poorer nations develop in sustainable ways.
• We are all connected. Most importantly, Pope Francis reminds us that we are all connected. We are connected to the rest of the human family, to the created world, and to those who will come after us in future generations — a message that should resonate with all of us during this COVID-19 pandemic.
I admit that this particular papal writing, although criticized by some, is one that is especially close to my heart. It speaks of values I was raised with concerning care for neighbor and care for the environment. Growing up in northern New York in a small, rural town surrounded by God’s creation put me very much in touch with the Earth and its preservation, along with the sharing of its produce. While weeding a garden and picking wild blueberries or wild strawberries weren’t always things I wanted to do growing up, they have produced stories and lessons I will not forget.
Even more, I can understand what it means for a well to go bad or for a river to dry up, as well as what forest preservation and nature conservation are all about. There is nothing I like better than hiking a mountain trail or kayaking an Adirondack pond or lake. I would not be able to do such things unless such care for God’s creation was handed on from generation to generation.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical “Charity in Truth,” “The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its lifestyle, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism…What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new lifestyles” (#51). Of course, Joseph Ratzinger grew up in the beauty of the Bavarian Alps, the one place I once heard my father say he could live outside of the United States. It is our connection with God’s creation than can lead us closer to God and one another and discover our common home!
I encourage each one of us to learn more about Laudato Si’ and incorporate its important lessons into our personal life. In a contemporary version of St. Francis’ “Canticle of Creation,” by composer Marty Haugen, the refrain proclaims, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, And all creation is shouting for joy! Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field, And sing, sing to the glory of the Lord!”
May God bless our environment and may God bless you!