It was clear from the beginning of Borgoglio’s pontificate that the Holy See would take seriously the concerns over environment that had already been percolating for over half a century. In his very first meeting with journalists, the Holy Father explained his reason for choosing the name Francis: because of the saint’s love for the poor and all God’s creatures, to which the Poverello of Assisi had dedicated a marvelous canticle, the first words of which were borrowed by Holiness to name this, his second encyclical.
Laudato si’ is a lengthy document, at times poetic and moving, giving clear witness to the radical uniqueness of Pope Francis, uncovering the very roots of what he considers essential to the faith, all the while remaining within the line of Christian tradition and the pope’s predecessors. In fact, quite a few surprises emerge from the text, a text that had already received an enormous amount of attention, and in some cases had been ideologically criticized and rejected before its very release, even to the point of interfering with and trying to manipulate its proper presentation rather than observing the accepted rules of respectable and fair journalism. Now, however, the encyclical has been made public, and anyone who cares to read it and discuss it honestly cannot help but recognize it’s novelty, even from the very opening address that includes “every person living on this planet,” as well as the pope’s explicit reasons for writing it. Just as in Borgoglio’s other landmark document, Evangelii Gaudium, he wants to encourage “ongoing missionary renewal,” in this case by entering into “dialogue with all people about our common home”
Drawing on a wide range of experience and research, the encyclical harvests the fruit of Christian reflection on the environment that has matured over the last fifty years through cultural and scientific debates that have been lively and marked by contrasting signs of extremism in a context of disturbing political apathy and lethargy. Pope Francis effectively grounds modern-day ecological sensibilities in the Christian tradition, drawing on Scripture, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Bonaventure, as well as utilizing contributions by more recent theologians such as Romano Guardini and Pierre Tailhard de Chardin, not to mention several non-Christian spiritual voices, including an Islamic mystic.
Also, never before seen in a papal text is Francis’s recourse to the voice of bishops throughout the world: no fewer than twenty times does Laudato si’ cite or reference documents published in the last thirty years by episcopal conferences and commissions, not to mention the importance the encyclical places on contemporary Orthodox thinking. For some time now the importance of Patriarch Bartholomew’s reflection on this topic has been recognized, and it is significant that the official Vatican presentation of the encyclical featured an intervention by John Zizioulas, a respected theologian and now Metropolitan of Pergamon.
In this encyclical, Pope Francis, expressing sentiments common to many people throughout the world, including those with no religious affiliation, intends to offer a contribution that “does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics,” but rather “to encourage an honest and open debate,” putting into practice the sacrosanct principle of precaution. At stake is the destiny of the entire planet, our “common home,” as well as the future of the poor who are most affected by a kind of degradation of the environment that would be foolish to ignore. For this reason, the pope invites us to care for it as we await and contemplate its Creator.
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 17, 2019
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