I spent a good portion of two weeks reading a copy of the Vatican’s release of the ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME (4/24/2015). All 148 pages of it. Nope, that’s no typo. Yep, it’s 148 pages.
It would be fair of you to ask, “Well, now, why’d you go and do that? Aren’t you kinda anti-catholic?” I was raised Roman Catholic. I used to call myself a “recovering catholic,” and then a “nondenominational Christian.” Now, I just call myself “spiritual.”
I’m not against the messages of Jesus. I consider him to be a Master whose message got distorted—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. I am against beating people over the head with guilt, institutional corruption, and the hoarding of money and information. So, I guess you could say I’m against the institution of the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve also found, personally, that I don’t need an intercessory between myself and God, so any religion that insists I do, I have a problem with, personally.
I was interested in this particular Encyclical of Pope Francis for two reasons. First, he’s made some pretty remarkable statements for a Pope. He’s quite liberal (although I’m not sure the institution of the church always agrees or follows through with what Pope Francis says). Second, this Encyclical is about our current ecological crisis, which goes far beyond global warming.
Already the coral reefs, which house millions of microscopic and small animals of our ocean, are dying. Actually, are mostly already dead. Those miniscule animals, like the plankton that are also dying, are at the bottom of the food chain in the oceans. Many other animals rely on them as food, who are in turn relied on as food, on up the chain to those humans not only consume, but make their living catching. So, those fishermen don’t just go hungry, but so does everyone they pay with their earnings, even if they don’t eat ocean animals.
And that’s just one of the changes scientists are seeing. So, I was interested in what the liberal Pope Francis had to say on the subject. And, the more I read, the more amazed I was at some of his statements.
Pope Francis, unlike other people in positions of authority, didn’t take our current ecological crisis out of context. For example, he didn’t refer to it as simple “global warming.” In fact, he made a point of putting it back into the context that others have intentionally avoided.
The Pope addressed the rising of the sea levels and what that means to the populations who live on coastlines, including some of our largest cities; the pollution of our oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers, and the basic human right to potable water; the amount of human refuse we make using paper and plastic without responsible recycling; the amount of fossil fuel emissions, mostly from coal and oil, but also gas, when other energy sources are available, especially solar; the effects deforestation has not only on the earth’s ability to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, but the numerous species it kills and the poisons left behind by mining and other endeavors; and probably more that I can’t at this writing recall.
Pope Francis didn’t stop there, either. He put the ecological crisis in context with our economic systems, which can’t be relied on to sustain the impact of the cost for the necessary cleanup work; with our political systems, which either do too little too late or don’t have the power to enforce meaningful sanctions when companies don’t comply; with our social systems, affected by our distraction with technology so that we’re not paying attention to what the production of that tech costs in the loss of culture, societal breakdown and damaged ecology of the developing countries corporations like to abuse; with our morals and our ethics when we consume more food than we need while others starve to death, and in our killing of animals to consume; and I’m sure more that I’m not remembering.
Pope Francis also spoke directly to Judeo-Christians about the meanings in the story of creation, reminding them that we humans come from Mother Earth herself and therefore have a special bond with her. He also said that “dominion” over God’s creations didn’t mean misuse or abuse, but was a reference to our abilities to reason, plan for the future, and solve problems. We are one of God’s creations, he said, and therefore have a kinship with the rest of God’s creations, especially the earth. More than once he cited his namesake, Saint Francis of Assissi, who called the sun father and the moon mother and all living things brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis didn’t even stop there. (I told you it was 148 pages, right?) He went after the morals and ethics of the power brokers, those behind-the-scenes people who are behind the behind-the-scenes people we occasionally catch a glimpse of, and make most of the decisions for the rest of us by pulling the money strings of political leaders, corporations, foreign governments, and local community leaders. He added that they broker power, and hoard wealth and resources, to the point that their reality is altered by their insulation from the rest of society.
He didn’t even stop there, where many people would. Pope Francis also had solutions, some of which would be easy to implement. In overrun, dirty cities, if the residents can’t make the outside of their building beautiful, they can the inside. Doing so as a team effort would make neighbors less unfamiliar and uncomfortable with each other, and might even cause some bonds of friendship and feelings of community. It’s harder to push around a small community than it is a building full of strangers.
He said that not only should the ecological impact of a proposed project be considered, but it should come first. By looking first at the type and variety of animal, plant, and insect life before beginning a design, areas can be set aside to ensure they all still have a place to live. This would also leave more green spaces as cities expand and overtake the suburbs.
In rural areas, small cooperative farms committed to not using chemicals or genetically engineered strains of plants could, once they take hold and there are more of them, do away with large corporate farms. Again, people working together and sharing the fruits of their labors builds communities.
Pope Francis also spoke about the grossly poor. He said that, in the fields, what fell to the ground or was missed on first picking was left for the poor. Every seventh year a field would lay fallow, not only so that what plants grew on it would decay and feed the soil, but what food grew on it was left for the poor. And every 49th year, or seven sets of seven years, Jubilee was celebrated where debts were required to be forgiven. That would give every person at least one chance in their life to start fresh.
Of course, much of what Pope Francis proposed as far as solutions were aimed at the hearts and minds of catholics. But, he did not shy away from either accepting responsibility or assigning blame to those of his own faith tradition, nor of anyone else.
While Pope Francis is both a Head of State and the Head of the Roman Catholic Church, it doesn’t necessarily follow that what he said in this Encyclical won’t be undermined, worked against, and actively fought by those in power who wish to stay so. But, this statement by the Pope, combined with the swelling of grassroots movements worldwide that requestion who we are in relation to each other, to God, and Mother Earth, has even managed to give this anti-dogma, spiritually driven person the one thing that’s felt so lacking lately: hope.
Much Love and Many Blessings,