This series of teaching editorials focuses on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’ ” (“On Care for Our Common Home”).
The Holy Father’s encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” is but a year old but already it has caused many to reflect upon the realities of our common home.
Whether by connecting environmental degradation with the plight of the poor or in highlighting an integrated approach that challenges us to see the connection between our environment and the of the human condition, “Laudato Si’ ” has and continues to represent a challenge to all, especially to people of faith.
Sustaining the momentum, generated by Pope Francis’ writings, will require our continued attention to three “E’s:” education, experience and excellence. Each of these is briefly discussed in this article.
Sustained education surrounding environmental conditions, so ably described in chapter one of Pope Francis’ encyclical, is necessary. This call means going beyond offering a few comments or even a seminar or two to those who already are “part of the choir.”
We know that our common home is plagued by pollution and waste, a “throwaway culture” mentality and a vicious disregard for human life. And, yet, there are some who doubt that our climate is a common good and that “climate change is a global problem with grave implications,” as the pope writes in paragraph 25.
A program of continuous education offers a chance to change hearts and minds. At the Church of the Ascension, we were moved to offer a six-week curriculum, corresponding to the number of chapters of “Laudato Si’,” soon after its release. Held in the evenings, this set of educational offerings drew over 50 adults, despite the understandable scheduling conflicts that so many face.
The sessions were not gatherings featuring one-way instruction but rather of sustained interaction focused upon the pope’s writing and its implications for daily living.
A similar series was also made available to our eighth-grade students, the inheritors of the environmental decisions made today. Copies of the pope’s original text were made available to all, and lively discussions and debates were held on the “best ways” to address the challenges in “Laudato Si’.”
Let us never underestimate the capacity of our young adults to understand, as well as to act upon, environmental challenges: They “get it” in ways that are often profound and often oh-so-practical.
Experience is a second key to our meaning-filled response to “Laudato Si’.” The final session of the study for our eighth graders was found in an “environmental tour,” conducted under the auspices of Interfaith Power and Light. Students visited sites of profound environmental degradation and directly observed the connection between ill-conceived public decisions and the results in the quality of our air, land and water.
Each of us knows that we need not travel too far in order to confront an environmental hazard. The garbage found along our roadways or in the waste created by the overuse of lighting systems are obvious. Indeed, in a “problems and solutions” exercise conducted in our eighth-grade class, the following practical and tactical solutions emerged:
- Recycle/reuse waste products.
- Use alternative means of transportation (other than vehicles).
- Pick up trash on the streets.
- Conserve paper by writing on both sides.
In that last regard, perhaps we can extend that to reusing and recycling the paper generated by The Record!
Common sense solutions were proposed by our eighth graders and, with the support of peers and others, are being implemented.
Excellence in realizing the promises of “Laudato Si’ ” is found in the sharing of ideas as well as in the solidarity of actions. Each of the 110 parishes in our archdiocese has a program, a ministry or even a notion that advances the pope’s call in parapraph 13 to “bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.”
Let’s designate a waste-free collection point, at the archdiocesan level, to gather such ideas.
Let us publicly reward and acknowledge parishes making a determined effort to embrace the tenets of “Laudato Si’.”
And, yes, let us strive to share and be collaborative as the challenges outlined in the Pope’s letter can seem overwhelming!
Achieving excellence recognizes that environmental issues are not simply those advanced by the political left, just as working to overcome tragedy of abortion is not merely a concern of the political right.
Creating a common home means finding common ground. Pope Francis’ call in paragraph 14 for a “new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” includes everyone.
And when we, both individually and collectively, work toward a new Earth, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the promises of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount are realized.
FATHER STEVEN HENRIKSEN
Pastor, Church of the Ascension