SASKATOON — Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, is a beautifully written and accessible document for the whole world, says Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
“It speaks a word that the world needs to hear at this moment in time,” said Bolen after the pontiff released the encyclical June 18 as part of the church’s social teaching.
“It is a word that many in our society, including our scientific community, are longing to hear, have been waiting to hear. It is an invitation to come to our senses and start to cultivate the larger vision needed if we are to live meaningfully as a human race on this earth which God has given us.”
He noted that Pope Francis’ broad intention resonates in the opening lines of the encyclical: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet (3).” The Holy Father emphasizes the profound and moving reality that earth is “our common home,” the bishop added.
Bolen expressed his delight in the sense of wonder and awe which characterizes this document, so grounded in a healthy relationship with God and with God’s creation.
He observed that the document’s title — Laudato Si’ or Praised Be — is appropriately taken from Saint Francis of Assisi’s glorious hymn to creation: “Praised be to you, my Lord, through brother sun, who gives us light. For sister moon and the stars; praised be to you, my Lord, through brother wind, sister water, through all the creatures.”
“The encyclical calls into question how we are to live on this planet, how we are to live in relation to the earth, how we are to deal with the suffering of others, how we are to form societies, cultures,” said Bolen, noting it is a call to conversion and change for each one of us in how we live and in the decisions we make.
He noted that Laudato Si’ identifies the ongoing dialogue with scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups that has taken place on these issues, and calls for a “conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
Pope Francis identifies that the same spiritual crisis is harming both the environment and human beings, said Bolen.
“Pope Francis makes an appeal on both fronts. The earth is suffering . . . and the greatest impact of climate change falls on the poorest,” Bolen said. “We are faced not with one but two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental (139),” states the document.
Environmental devastation and the human scourges of poverty, inequality, injustice, wars, abortion, and human trafficking are all connected to our “throwaway culture,” that treats other human beings and nature as objects for exploitation and domination.
The market economy and technology must be accompanied by a moral sense to protect both the earth and human beings, stresses Pope Francis: “Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely,” he writes in Laudato Si’. “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience (105).”
It is clear that the relationship with nature will not be renewed without a renewal of humanity itself, Pope Francis adds. “The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty (175).”
“Pope Francis invites us to listen to the suffering, and to an ‘ecological conversion,’ to use an expression of Pope John Paul II. We are invited to change direction by taking on the beauty and responsibility of the task of caring for our common home,” said Bolen.
“This document is saying with new force that concern for the environment is no longer optional for a believer. Caring for the environment is now even more clearly and surely part of church teaching,” he stressed. “Pope Francis quotes Saint John Paul II: ‘Christians in their turn realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty toward nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith’ (64).”
Bolen identified several calls to conversion emerging from the document. “On a personal level this includes a need to decrease consumption and rethink consumerism, to examine our own lifestyle and acknowledge harm to God’s creation through our actions or failure to act, to foster and celebrate beauty, and to keep the Sabbath,” he listed.
“It also means a communal conversion: ensuring that ecological education takes place in a variety of settings (including schools, media and parishes), fostering a culture of care and implementing needed changes as a community, such as increasing regulations to protect the environment and thinking about the global implications of our actions and policies,” said Bolen.
Pope Francis also states in the document that fossil fuels must be “progressively replaced without delay.” The pope adds: “Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most. (169)”
The encyclical invites a deep discernment also on the level of nations, in terms of economic and political priorities, said Bolen. Pope Francis addresses political and business leaders boldly in asking, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so? (57)”
As for questions about whether the church has a role in this discussion, Bolen insisted that politics and economics are not off limits to people of faith, but engaging in these areas is an integral part of working for the common good.
“I think of the old Jewish Midrash: when God gets up in the morning, he gathers the angels around him and asks, ‘where does the world need healing today,’ ” said Bolen. “The church needs to be involved in this issue, because it is of concern to God, because God loves the earth and loves human beings.”
He added: “Neither the Jewish nor the Christian tradition has ever seen fit to leave politics and economics to others and say that is off territory for God and faith. Much to the contrary.”
The papal encyclical reflects profoundly on the common good — not only for humanity today, but extending to future generations. “We hear ‘the environment is on loan to each generation, which must hand it on to the next,’ and a very simple question and a common sense summons: ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ said Bolen.
“Do we love our children, our grandchildren? Enough that we might want to give them a chance to love their grandchildren? Then let’s start shifting our priorities as a society, as a nation let’s start being a leader on environmental issues, let’s start taking responsibility for our part in wounding a suffering world and working towards its healing,” Bolen urged.
The document is ultimately grounded in hope, Bolen said. “It’s not too late. Hope flows through the entire encyclical. And the ultimate ground of hope for the Christian is our hope in God.”
In section 245, before offering a prayer for our earth, the encyclical concludes: “In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he unites himself definitely to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward.”
“That great love and mercy of God is our hope and our joy,” said Bolen. “It is what will help us as we re-orient our lives, to find new ways of living and responding to these challenges so clearly articulated for us by Pope Francis.”