Resume of Laudato Si’, the New Encyclical Letter on Ecology

Resume by Yanagawa Tomoki
Jesuit Social Center staff

Creation and ourselves
  Last year in May Pope Francis published Laudato Si’, an encyclical on ecology and the environment. This encyclical has not yet been translated into Japanese, but Jesuit Father Semoto Masayuki, who is working on a translation, outlined its content in a lecture given on January 20 at the seminar organized by our Social Center under the title “The Second Vatican Council Today.” The following is a summary of Fr. Semoto’s lecture.

Introduction and Title of Laudato Si’
  It is important at this time to re-assess carefully God’s “work of creation”—the universe, this world, the earth, nature, and our human race. Former Popes, too, have touched upon ecological issues in official documents like “World Peace Day Messages,” but this is the first time the Catholic Church has manifested its responsibility regarding ecological issues with an encyclical fully dedicated to ecology.

  The title Laudato Si’ is an old form of Italian for “Praise be to you” and was taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun. This encyclical, which begins with the prayer of St. Francis, patron saint of all people dedicated to ecological issues, affirms the following four points in its introduction.

  (1) Nothing in this world is indifferent to us (nos.3-6). Some imagine that it is all right for us believers to be indifferent to what is happening in this world or that we can lead our faith life more peacefully by being indifferent to the world, but Pope Francis reminds us firmly that nothing good results from being indifferent to our world. Inspired by the tenor of the “Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” of Vatican II, he quotes official documents of Popes from the time of Pope St. John XXIII.

  (2) United by the same concern (nos.7-9). In Christian denominations other than the Catholic Church and in other religions as well, many people agree about the importance of ecological issues. Philosophers and scientists as well as leaders in the ecological movement are vociferous about the importance of doing something about the environment. It is fitting for the Church to stress environmental issues at this time so as to resonate with statements and activities of so many non-Catholics. In particular, the Pope names his esteemed friend, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, and quotes excerpts from his addresses.

  (3) Saint Francis of Assisi (nos.10-12). St. Francis of Assisi, whose name the Pope took when he was elected, is at the very basis of this encyclical.

  (4) My appeal (nos.13-16). The Pope points out that dealing with ecology is an urgent global issue and responsibility for all people, from which no one can escape. This is why he appeals to all people to dialogue.

Chapter 1. What is Happening to Our Common Home
  Some people might find this chapter difficult to read, since it contains scientific aspects, especially aspects of natural science. It deals with various concrete and typical environmental problems concerning what has happened and is now happening to our common home, the earth, and enters into rather penetrating discussion. It recognizes scientific results that have benefited environmental problems and moves on to climate change, the issue of water, and the decline of biodiversity, and points to the obligation borne by countries of the North to pay back their “ecological debt” to the South.

  The expression “rapidification” is coined in no.18. We are living constantly busy lives in various palpable ways beset with inner anxiety. Increasingly rapid transportation like the shinkansen and linear motor vehicles have their good points but at the same time we feel pursued by time. Due to such rapidity, our very humanity is being lost.

  With the dawning of the third millennium in 2000, there was a move to remit the international “debts” of developing countries. International “debts” at that time meant funds which developing countries had borrowed from advanced (or over-developed) countries. On the other hand, conversely, countries of the North (advanced countries) had borrowed all kinds of benefits from the South (developing countries), like their natural environment or natural resources, and had built up and maintained comfortable lives and continued to increase their own wealth. This is what is meant by their ecological debt. The North must seriously recognize the debts it has incurred by continually borrowing from developing countries and must repay these debts.

Chapter 2. The Gospel of Creation
  In the light of the Bible and the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Pope examines human responsibility toward nature, the close mutual relationship among all creatures, and the natural environment as a common resource. A close mutual relationship exists among all creatures created by God (not only among humans). The natural environment is a common resource for all humankind to enjoy and make use of together.

  Some people may find it inappropriate to link the Bible and faith tradition with talk of environmental issues. Nevertheless, in answer to such people, it can be said that in the light of Christian faith, or, if you will, the Gospel of creation, coming to grips with our relation to nature is simply a task implicit in our very faith life, and therefore, linking faith with commitment to ecological issues serves to make our faith itself even more consistent.

Chapter 3. The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis
  A certain historian of the 1960s published a paper on the “Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” in which he said that Christianity itself has given rise to ecological problems and is the main culprit in corrupting the environment. This was a rather shocking claim. The title of this chapter was chosen with that in mind.

  That historian urged the Church to reflect on the fact that, even though it could have profited from the good heritage of St. Francis of Assisi, this heritage was set to one side and not acted upon.

  Against such charges from the scholarly world, the Pope identifies the roots of the ecological crisis as technocracy and an exaggerated anthropocentrism, and warns against a pragmatic relativism that harms personal dignity.

  The expression “technocracy” appears often in the document. It identifies technology as a dominant principle. In our day we have been forced to live within a technology-centered ideology. Technology itself is not bad, but its dominance is so great that it is easily affects people in power, who use technology to hold onto and increase their dominion over others. The ecological crisis is deeply conjoined with technocracy.

Chapter 4. Integral Ecology
  This chapter proposes, as closely connected with environmental issues, an “integral ecology that clearly includes human and social dimensions.”

  “Integral” is one of those key words that play a great part in modern and contemporary Catholic thinking. Simply put, it means “taken as a whole.” When one offers something to God, it would be disrespectful to set something aside for oneself, so one offers everything. In the Old Testament times, when animals were offered in sacrifice, only animals without wounds or missing parts were used.

  Integral ecology includes everything related to the human person. It is a total acceptance of all that is human. What the Church means by ecology is an integral ecology, which includes not only our relationship with nature but also interpersonal relationships and our relationship with God. Thus, if we want to include in the word “ecology” not simply the animate world, which is only one part of humanity, but all dimensions of humanity, we should rephrase it as “totally human ecology.”

  “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal. When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values. Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our con-cern for ecology will produce significant results.” (Laudato Si’ no.160)

  Why were we be born into this world? If we can say we were born for our family, or for someone we like, or anyone, we are basically happy as human beings. But isn’t this world, this earth, demanding and expecting something of us? Isn’t that the important thing?

  Since Vatican II the Catholic Church has defined itself as God’s people on pilgrimage to the end of history, to the final day of fulfilment (cf. the “Constitution on the Church”). The history of salvation on its move toward fulfilment is asking something from each one of us.

  Going one step further, aren’t the earth and nature asking something of us humans? Aren’t humans entrusted with the mission to do something on this earth? It is important to be aware of such questions. We are asked what we should do to keep the earth in good shape and pass it on to the next generation in good shape so that they too may take good care of it. This has a deep connection with continuing to ask ourselves why we were born.

  Although the encyclical does not mention it, perhaps in the not so distant future humans may build places to live on some celestial body other than the earth. However, this should not be because, having ravaged the earth, we need to go elsewhere to look for resources and a life environment. Rather, before we leave the earth, we should learn how to live at peace with other creatures on the earth, not only other humans but all other forms of life.

Chapter 5. Lines of Approach and Action
  In this chapter the Pope proposes honest and transparent dialogue at all social, economic, and political levels and indicates that projects not based on responsible conscientiousness are ineffective.

  Dialogue is not achieved when critical statements are irresponsibly spewed out against the other side. Dialogue is the honest attitude of expressing what one believes to be the truth and of listening to what the other side believes to be true. The Holy Spirit works through such sharing, and both sides mutually experience change. The work of the Spirit echoing in what the other side says moves us interiorly, broadens and corrects our way of thinking.

  Several proposals are made in this chapter. Some pertain to the international level, some to the personal level. For example, consumer boycotting, when needed, is one way of expressing civic responsibility. We consumers imagine that we have to buy anything and everything that comes out on the market, but we can make use of boycotting by refusing to buy this product made by that company or when we have doubts about some product. Pope Francis speaks very concretely.

Chapter 6. Ecological Education and Spirituality
  Pope Francis, echoing the “ecological conversion” called for by Pope St. John Paul II, stresses the need to educate toward “forming, maintaining, and developing the good habits” which contribute to ecological conversion. He also stresses the importance of the ecological spirituality latent in the Church’s spiritual tradition.

  However, there might also be a non-ecological spirituality. In case our life of prayer has been cultivated without any relationship to ecology, we will need to change our way of thinking and try “greening” our spirituality. We may not be able to go so far as to say that spirituality simply cannot be deepened if it distances itself from life in this world, but spirituality generally entails a way of living in this world. As the encyclical says, nothing at all good comes from being unconcerned with this world. We are summoned to incorporate an ecological spirituality, that is to say, what we call the earth or this earth, into our life of faith.

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