By Father James Flynn
It was one year ago, June 18, 2015, that we earthlings received a greatly anticipated encyclical from Pope Francis. The first words (in Latin) are Laudato Si’, “Praised Be: On Care for our Common Home.”
Those first words come from his papal namesake, St. Francis, who, the pope writes, praised “our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.” But Pope Francis quickly adds, “a Sister that now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her.”
The pope makes his own the mystical appreciation for Mother Earth of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople: “It is our humble conviction that divine and human meet in the slightest detail contained in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust” (paragraph 9).
With such a vision he wishes “to address every living person on the planet,” he writes in paragraph 3, and makes it clear in paragraph 61, that Earth, our “common home, is falling into serious disrepair.”
Looking to “every living person,” the pope warns in paragraph 13 that “the urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.”
He bluntly faults this human family because “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he writes in paragraph 21.
Pope Francis challenges all of us in paragraph 41, rhetorically asking, “who turned the wonder world of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?”
Then firmly aligning himself with most climate scientists, in paragraph 23 he warns that “a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.”
Pope Francis leaves no doubt about the source of climate change and its partial solution: “The use of highly polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, but also oil, and to a lesser degree gas, needs to be progressively replaced without delay,” he writes in paragraph 165.
While so deeply worried about the situation, Pope Francis is still able to marvel in paragraph 84 that “the entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is as it were a caress of God.”
Throughout this poetic encyclical, Pope Francis raises three core concerns:
- The Earth is our common home.
- Everything is connected.
- We must hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.
At the end of the encyclical Pope Francis leaves us with a beautiful prayer, which ends, “Lord … teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.”
On this first anniversary it would serve us all well to read Pope Francis’ heartfelt and urgent appeal to care for the only home we have, Mother Earth.
Father James Flynn is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville.