Prepping for Laudato Si's one-year anniversary

The past few months offer hints about how Rome will continue hammering home the wisdom of the eco-encyclical

With Holy Week and international crises—from terrorism to the care for emigrants—taking center stage these past weeks in the life of the Church, there is nonetheless a quiet ramp up to the one-year anniversary of the issuance of Laudato Si’. For clues about what’s in store these next few weeks, we need only look back at the first three months of 2016—especially to the whirlwind of activity by Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson and others who have been largely responsible for maintaining the momentum of the Holy Father’s eco-encyclical.

Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has spoken this past year especially to audiences in North America—a region of the world with an abundance of wealth, resources, and appetites. While the ongoing presence in the Global North of a cardinal from the Global South is telling in itself, what he’s been saying has gotten the attention of many.

“Cardinal Turkson’s continuing to promote Laudato Si’ in the United States is truly a gift,” Dr. Jame Schaefer told Catholic Ecology last month. Schaefer, of Marquette University, has been on the front lines this past year in helping unpack the Church's eco-teachings.

“As someone who has been addressing ecological problems in various capacities for nearly forty years, I have never before experienced the breadth of interest in the Catholic, Christian perspective on ecological degradation and threats to the biosphere.”

"During this Year of Mercy, all Catholics, parishes, and dioceses should be thinking about mercy for the poor and vulnerable and for Earth, our common home.” Jame Schaefer

So what can we take away from these recent ecclesial eco-interventions, especially here in the United States?

Here are four of the biggest:

Governments must play a role

Following Holy Week was a talk by Archbishop Bernardito Auza this past Sunday at the University of Notre Dame. Archbishop Auza, papal nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, gave a keynote address for a conference examining the implications of Laudato Si’ for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which were approved by world leaders last September.

The archbishop spoke about global issues such as extreme poverty, unjust economic systems, social inequalities, arms proliferation and underdevelopment. In part, the archbishop said that

these huge issues may look vastly different from one another, but as Pope Francis insists in Laudato Si’, they are all interconnected and are merely different faces of an integral "human ecology." The comprehensive solutions we seek to face these problems should consider not only the present generation, but also future generations and everything in creation. If we are to achieve positive global outcomes, we have to recognize this interdependence. To arrive at comprehensive solutions, Pope Francis is calling everyone to an honest dialogue. The term "dialogue" is ubiquitous in the encyclical.

In other words: Rome continues to put governments big and small on notice that they had better govern with the good of all in mind. As we saw at the COP21 climate talks in December, many world leaders are listening to this message. But you can be assured that those that haven’t will be a focus for Rome this spring.

Business must be invited to the conversation

Many long-time eco-activists consider the market economy to be an evil that must be eliminated. Cardinal Turkson has a different message.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Holy Father is not anti-business. Quite the opposite—he sees it as a “noble profession”. But to live up to this vocational calling, it must orient its activities toward the common good. For sure, profit has its legitimate role to play in any business activity. But it cannot be the only role, or even the primary role. Rather, businesses must always strive to meet genuine human needs, rather than feed a culture of consumerism ...

And it should always put jobs before short-term profits. This is a key concern for Pope Francis, so much so that there is an entire section of the encyclical called “The need to protect employment” (§124-29). One of the ways business can best help care for our common home is by providing decent work.

In other words, the business sector has to be part of the eco-sustainability conversation. You can plan on hearing more from Rome about the link between economics and ecology—and how the former must be ennobled so that it can help protect the latter.

It's not just about government and business

Marquette’s Schaefer added that all Catholics are required to consider encyclicals carefully. She notes that Cardinal Turkson’s efforts to raise awareness of Pope Francis's eco-encyclical in particular underscore its significance for us all.

“Prior popes have mentioned in encyclicals the problems of air and water pollution, accumulation of wastes, the loss of biodiversity, and destruction of ecosystems as moral problems,” Schaefer said. “But Laudato Si’ is the first encyclical dedicated to ecological problems and their ramifications for vulnerable people now and in the future.”

“Of course, action is needed at all levels of governance—from individual to international. Hopefully, Cardinal Turkson’s efforts will be translated into action within dioceses and their parishes. During this Year of Mercy, all Catholics, parishes, and dioceses should be thinking about mercy for the poor and vulnerable and for Earth, our common home.”

Schaefer also noted the need for education about the major ecological problems highlighted in Laudato Si’. She added that one major effort underway is the on-line interactive environmental science text Healing Earth that was launched in January by the Society of Jesus.

It’s only just begun

As we saw in the pontiff’s April prayer intention on supporting farmers, the message of integral ecology will continue to be sent forth from Rome to the world.

And so as we approach the one-year anniversary of the issuance of Laudato Si' this June, there will be much, much more of all of the above. As always, stay tuned here for all the latest news and analysis. (And to make that easy, subscribe a little way up to the right to have blog posts from Catholic Ecology emailed to you directly and, as always, for free and without advertising.)

For now, may God bless you as we continue this great season of Easter!

Photo: Flicker/Martin Schulz

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.