“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
This question is posed by Pope Francis in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’ — On Care of Our Common Home,” released in June. “Laudato Si” has engaged people around the world in dialogue. Its content is compelling and far-reaching. The title, which comes from the words of St. Francis of Assisi in his “Canticle of the Creatures,” is translated as “Praise be to you,” referring to the creator of life.
In Catholic tradition, an encyclical is an important teaching on moral topics; however, Pope Francis has made it known that he is addressing this encyclical not solely to Catholics but to “everyone who lives on the planet.” The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics will soon be visiting the United States with stops in Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Philadelphia. Pope Francis will address the urgent issues he raises in the encyclical with President Barack Obama and with member nations at the United Nations.
In the opening chapter, he introduces the central themes of the document: “I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.”
Pope Francis asserts at the outset that Christians and others have been influenced by “a flawed theology” when they quote the Genesis passage that refers to “man’s dominion over all the earth and creatures of the earth” as justification for the exploitation of our natural resources. His teaching clearly states that humans are integral to nature instead of nature being subject to human domination.
“Integral ecology,” a term used frequently throughout the document, emphasizes the interconnectedness of complex issues that impact our world and our existence. Societal and environmental crises are not independent of one another but in fact are closely intertwined, the Pope writes.
On this point, Pope Francis joins Naomi Klein, author of “This Changes Everything,” as both thinkers connect issues of social justice and economic inequity to global climate change and environmental degradation.
The interconnections are evident. Violence perpetrated upon the earth has a devastating impact on the people who rely on natural resources for their survival. Environmental degradation increases levels of poverty. Climate change impacts people living in poverty at a much higher rate, which is unjust because poor people have done much less to cause climate change than have affluent, throwaway societies. Violence in communities increases when people cannot access resources to meet their basic needs. Economic inequality gives rise to individual and family violence.
In “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis calls for “a new humanity” where we work together to find solutions to these problems. Nationally there is a growing movement to connect the dots between war, poverty, the climate crisis and violence in all its forms. Campaign Nonviolence is a movement to mainstream nonviolence toward ourselves, toward one another and toward the world.
Starting at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, as part of the national Campaign Nonviolence week, more than 40 organizations and faith communities are co-sponsoring “End Violence Together,” an event at West Market Square in Bangor. There will be music, speakers, a children’s program and informational tables offering ideas on how to care for our environment and address issues related to war, poverty, racism and the climate crisis.
“Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently,” Pope Francis states. “We realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.” The Pope isn’t simply addressing climate change. He is urging every one of us, young and old, to take responsibility for our world.
Mary Ellen Quinn of Winterport is co-coordinator of Pax Christi Maine, a Catholic organization that promotes peace and nonviolence, and has worked as a social worker in Bangor for more than 30 years.