The pope’s encyclical on the environment is addressed to the entire world, but it has different messages for different parts of it.
“He’s got a different message for the developing world than he does for the developed world,” said Dennis Patrick O’Hara, director of Toronto’s Elliott Allen Institute for Ecology and Theology. “He’s admonishing the developed world. He’s standing shoulder to shoulder with the developing world.”
“Of course it’s a challenge to us,” said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Paul-André Durocher. “It’s a challenge to anybody who’s reading this and looking at it in a serious way . . . It challenges Canadian companies and the Canadian government to look again at the way we are dealing with our environment. And it’s challenging us in our international relationships.”
It’s also a document the Canadian bishops contributed to in a profound way.
“God has written a precious book, ‘whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe.’ The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: ‘From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine,’ ” wrote Pope Francis.
The pope has relied upon the Canadian bishops to teach that creation itself constitutes God’s sacred, self-emptying revelation. That’s no incidental remark in his argument that our faith compels us to act on climate change.
But that hardly lets Canadians off the hook. We’re a wealthy nation and our culture has become deeply secular and massively consumerist.
“He’s really got a word for everybody, but the strongest words in the document are to wealthier nations,” said Saskatoon Bishop Don Bolen, chair of the CCCB’s justice and peace commission. “Yes, we’re a wealthy nation and a nation with many resources . . . He’s saying, when we go into these international summits on the environment and we’re always lagging behind and we’re always the ones for preventing, when we’re not on the forefront of dramatic, serious proposals for change but pushing for very slow change, very minimal change, saying we wealthier nations aren’t ready to take steps on our own without significant changes in other countries — he’s saying we’re not taking responsibility which comes with our wealth, which comes with our resources, for taking real leadership.”
In Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home, the pope also sets a standard for relations with Aboriginal Canadians we have not always lived up to.
“It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed,” writes Pope Francis.
“This is an encyclical that hits us, touches us at every level,” said Ray Temmerman, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace national council president.
Temmerman believes the new encyclical will have an importance for Development and Peace’s 10,000-plus members not seen since Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio. When Paul declared 48 years ago that “development is the new name for peace,” Canadians responded by joining and supporting Development and Peace. Now that the planet is on the line there is new urgency in its campaigns, Temmerman said.
“This is a question that goes to the heart of who we are as created beings within created being,” said Temmerman. “We are not called to alleviate poverty. We are called to an encounter with the poor.”
Canadian Catholics want their church to take up the challenge in Laudato Si’, said Green Church executive director Normand Levesque. Canadians believe the pope is right to face up to truth of the situation.
“He insists on reality. Reality is more important than the ideal,” said Levesque. “Reality is how the world works, how ecosystems work. So he goes on to say that any development project, any economic project, must be framed within the limits of nature’s laws.”
But that big picture doesn’t exclude ordinary Christians from playing their role.
“In every parish we should have somebody in charge of creation care ministry,” he said. “We have to recognize this as a ministry in the church. As soon as we do so, well then we can start moving. Otherwise, these are just good ideas and theology.”
In Antigonish, N.S., Bishop Brian Dunn doesn’t think this is just “another document from the church and so what?”
“He’s giving us a new perspective on our home. This is our common home. We don’t think in those terms. Giving people that kind of mindset might be a way of influencing all people, as he calls it, anybody of goodwill, willing to listen to those kinds of things,” said Dunn. “He’s presenting a theology of creation that gives us an entirely different way of seeing things — as gift as opposed to something we continue to consume or take over for our own use.”