‘Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord.’” So opens Pope Francis’ much-anticipated ecology encyclical, a hopeful meditation on God’s creative love that calls each of us to more fully respond to the central Catholic teaching that “the earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 183).
Pope Francis seeks to answer a vital question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
His answer: a wide-ranging vision animated by the conviction that “we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (Laudato Si’ [LS], no. 229). He clearly hopes that this understanding of our connectedness -- with each other, with the created world, and with those who will come after us -- will reinvigorate a conversation to which all are welcome.
In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis is speaking as a spiritual and moral leader calling each of us to more fully answer the call to care for others and care for God’s creation. He sees the “ecological crisis” as first and foremost “a summons to profound interior conversion” (LS, no. 217). That conversion must begin with humility when confronting the results of human activity unmoored from God’s design.
This is integral ecology, and it’s at the heart of the encyclical. As Pope Francis says, “it is no longer enough to speak only of the integrity of ecosystems. We have to dare to speak of the integrity of human life, of the need to promote and unify all the great values. Once we lose our humility, and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment” (LS, no. 224).
In linking respect for human life and dignity with care for the natural world, Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of both Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, who noted that “respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God” (Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace).
The efforts of all three are rooted in Scripture and longstanding Catholic teachings. Those teachings remind us that when we don’t responsibly care for God’s creation, it’s the poor who suffer most. Pollution, food and water insecurity, and conflicts over declining resources first affect those on the margins -- “the least of these” Jesus entrusts to our particular care. There’s an “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet” (LS, no. 16), and we have a responsibility to live out our solidarity with the poor in concrete ways.
That means that Laudato Si’ is also a call to action. We’re called to reject consumerism, resist a “technocratic paradigm,” and recognize that “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” (LS, no. 109). We’re also called to work for effective responses to climate change, “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (LS, no. 25). This will require “honesty, courage, and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most” (LS, no. 169).
Laudato Si’ is a reminder of the distinctive voice that Catholicism brings to important public questions. Our faith commits us to participate in public life and work for the common good, to recognize the dignity of the human person, and to work for those on the margins. Of course, any living faith is challenging, and Laudato Si’ challenges all of us to resist the “throwaway culture” wherever it arises.
Pope Francis has given us a rich document that invites prayerful, thoughtful reflection. It’s a remarkable invitation to a dialogue that’s just beginning about how we can best care for “our common home.”
Kim Daniels is a former spokesperson for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.