In the time between issuing our edition of REmail on Eco-Spirituality, Pope Francis released Laudato Si’, a groundbreaking Encyclical that offers us in Australia a powerful moral and spiritual imperative for environmental and social action.
Accordingly, this edition of REmail provides students with a gentle introduction on what many are calling one of the most important sources of Catholic Social Teaching ever created.
Sure, there are some in the mainstream media, and indeed senior clergy (such as cardinal George Pell), who have criticised certain elements of the Holy Father’s clarion call to the world community. Regardless, the document is addressed to not only members of the Church but is a vehicle to “enter into dialogue” with all people who are “united by the same concern” – the care of our common home.
In the Pope’s eyes it’s all about relationships.
Pope Francis’ Appeal
The Encyclical begins with Pope Francis’ appeal for humanity to shift its thinking to a more sustainable approach.
Paraphrasing Pope Francis (and note the paragraph references to the direct section of the Encyclical used throughout this edition of REMail):
13 God has not abandoned us; he will show us the way. My thanks go to all who are already working for this, especially those who assist the world’s poorest people.
14 His urgent appeal is for dialogue. Let’s tackle this together! There is a worldwide ecological movement, but powerful forces oppose it while most people simply go their merry way and ignore the problem, as though it will go away on its own. Others have come to believe that nothing can be done to repair the ecological damage we see. And still others think that all we need is more technology and development, as though adding to the problem will fix it. What I believe we need is a new and worldwide solidarity of will and talent to care for God’s creation.
15 I hope this encyclical can help us all understand the urgency of the situation and face it squarely. This encyclical is now part of the church’s social teaching.
The Structure of Laudato Si’
After this appeal, the Encyclical divides into six chapters, each examining different aspects of the rupture between humans and creation and the prospects for healing this relationship.
The first chapter, “What Is Happening to Our Common Home”, looks at the various symptoms of environmental degradation. The impacts of climate change are considered alongside issues of the depletion of freshwater and loss of biodiversity.
There is no substantial discussion of the science of global warming; instead, it simply points to the overwhelming consensus concerning the negative impact of carbon-intensive economies on the natural world and human life.
The encyclical firmly posits that a truly ecological approach is also inherently social – an approach that simultaneously hears the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
The second chapter, “The Gospel of Creation”, considers the world the way that God intended it, and touches on the rich scriptural traditions to show that there is no biblical justification for “a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”
The third chapter, “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”, looks at the symptoms of the ecological and how our increasingly materialistic view of reality has not only resulted in disregard for the environment, but also undermined the worth of a human life.
In the fourth chapter, “Integral Ecology”, the encyclical charts a path to recapture awareness of the interconnectedness of creation.
The fifth chapter, “Lines of Approach and Action”, sets out various international collective actions needed.
The sixth chapter, “Ecological Education and Spirituality”, invites individuals, families and communities to make a difference in small but tangible ways.
How to use this REMail
This edition looks at only two small areas touched on by Pope Francis in Laudato Si. Central the activities we suggest could be used in your classroom is Pope Francis’ Prayer for our Earth (reproduced below, and in PDF format for distribution).
The numbers you see below are paraphrased from the actual paragraph number in the Encyclical.
As always, activities have been broken down for both primary school and secondary school students.
Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture
17. Instead of beginning with theology or philosophy, I want to sketch a picture of what is happening on our common home, the earth.
18. Our lives seem to be speeding up. We might call the phenomenon of everything moving along so fast by the term “rapidification.” Human change is happening faster than the slower speed of biological evolution. And much of the change is not aimed at human dignity or ecological sustainability.  The human family has just come through a period when we believed that we could do anything on earth, without regard to sustainability. But a growing number of people now see the need to protect nature. Let us take a brief look at the main questions about the environment that are before us. We can’t sweep these under the carpet any longer.
19. Pollution is part of daily life for many people. Breathing in pollutants causes a host of health issues, especially among the poor who cannot escape it. Technology cannot solve this problem.
21. Toxic waste is a culprit in the pollution puzzle. We pile it everywhere, but it’s making the earth, which is our home, into an “immense pile of filth”. Once beautiful landscapes are now littered with rubbish.
22. We live in a “throwaway culture” in which we think nothing of using a carton or other item once and then disposing of it. Paper, which is easily recycled, is often used once, for example. The dialogue to which I’m calling us as a human family could deal with this by creating a circular model of production in which everything is used and reused, we engage in moderate consumption, and we guard the non-renewable resources.
The Gospel of Creation: The light offered by faith
62. I want to turn now to the ways in which faith can inform the dialogue for which I am calling. Even though not all to whom this is addressed are believers, religion can still make a rich contribution.
63. The ecological crisis in which we find ourselves is complex, and solutions must, therefore, come from every culture and tradition, from art and poetry as well as from spirituality.
64. I hope for a worldwide dialogue through this encyclical, and I hope that Christians will realize their responsibility within creation.
65. Human dignity rises out of the belief that we are created by God and found by him to be good. We are made in God’s image. Because we are created in love, we are capable of giving ourselves in love. Each human life is, therefore, valuable and unique. Each is held in God’s own hand.
66. Scripture helps us see that human life is grounded in three close relationships: we relate to God, to our neighbour, and to the earth itself. By refusing to acknowledge that we humans have certain limits and that we are not the masters of the universe, we ruptured these relationships. We call this rupture by the name “sin”.
67. “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.” Our way of reading Genesis 1:28 has in the past suggested that humans have “dominion” over the earth, and this has been the root justification for “the unbridled exploitation of nature.” This is not a correct interpretation of Scripture, and we reject the idea that being created in God’s image gives us the right to destroy the earth. The role we have been given leads us to restore the broken relationships, end the selfishness, and turn greed into shared resources. Our role, in the end, is to till, keep, and protect the earth (Genesis 2:15).
68. We are also called to respect the natural laws of the world, offering the land and animals alike a chance to rest, helping and assisting both neighbour and livestock when the need arises, and caring even for the birds when they have fallen to the ground (Deuteronomy 22:4, 6). The Bible does not support the idea that humans are allowed to plunder and destroy other creatures.
69. We humans, according to the Bible, must take our place within creation, not stand outside it in a superior position. It is a distorted view of human life that claims we are better or more important than the rest of creation. The Catechism teaches that each created animal or plant reflects the face of God.
A Prayer for Our Earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
Download This Prayer!
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
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.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.