Today our Holy Father released a long-anticipated encyclical on the environment, which he has entitled Laudato Si, (Praised be). An encyclical is a teaching document, which literally means a ‘circular letter’ to be distributed and read among all people. I strongly encourage everyone to do just that; read this document.  View Document here.

Pope Francis states clearly this letter is intended for “every person living on this planet.” (#3) He wishes “to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” (#3) It is important to understand that Pope Francis is speaking not as a scientist nor as a politician, but as a Pastor. More than anything, this document is a moral analysis of the challenges facing the world community today, and a road map calling for conversion, dialogue, and hope.

A frequently used phrase from the document could well be a lens with which to understand this far-reaching instruction: “everything is connected.” (#91) Laudato Si is a call to everyone to recognize the Creator who brings everything into being.  Humanity shares a common Father, who makes us one family sharing a common home. One foundational premise of this document is that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” (#66)

At the heart of the document is a call to acknowledge that our common home, planet earth is not healthy:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes. (# 23)

Pope Francis gives a wise assessment of the sociological as well as the technological practices that are at the heart of the ecological challenge before us. At the same time, he wishes to “encourage an honest and open debate, so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.” (#188)

For those of us living in ‘energy states,’ such as Wyoming, the document clearly challenges the use of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. (# 165) Before we get overly alarmed with this challenge, it is important to point out that the poor, care for the environment, and economic growth are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They go together. The Holy Father is simply interested in bringing people to the table for dialogue.   Along with a call for reduction in fossil fuels is the invitation to come up with new innovations.

In the end, Pope Francis is calling all people to read this document with open minds and hearts. He is inviting us to live more simply; with greater gratitude for all that God has given us in creation. He is calling us to live a more humble and sober life. (# 193) The family is once again given a strong focus, as it is at the heart of all life. (# 213) Greater appreciation for beauty is also needed: “If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple.” (# 215)

In short, what is needed is a new way of thinking “about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature.” (# 215)

He wisely challenges that the world economy should put the human person at the center, rather than profit, and that every human person reject a self-centered approach to life. He is inviting a redefinition of the notion of progress, instructing that technological and economic development have the common good as their goal, longing to create a better world and a higher quality of life for all people. (# 196)

This teaching will take some time to digest, and a greater amount of time to change the hearts and minds of people in order to bring about a healthier culture and climate, which is our common home.

Do yourself a favor, read the encyclical!