On Monday, I posted a review of “Laudato Si’ “, Pope Francis’s encyclical on caring for our common home. This wasn’t by accident. I read the encyclical in preparation for a lecture at The Ohio State University by Cardinal Peter Turkson. He is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and led the drafting of the encyclical. He is the first Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church from Ghana.
His lecture was an exposition of the encyclical, the distinctive of which is a call for an integral ecology that brings together both natural ecology and human ecology. He contended our relationship with God, each other, and the earth is intimately connected. Therefore, he stated that this is not an encyclical on climate change per se’, but rather a social encyclical that links our treatment of the earth and our treatment of the poor, who often suffer the most from environmental degradation even though they have done the least to cause this.
There were several things he brought out that illumined and enriched my own reading of the encyclical:
- He mentioned that the characteristic word the encyclical uses for our relationship to the creation is care rather than stewardship, a term that is used only twice in the encyclical. While stewardship focuses on responsibility and answerability, care has to do with love, and resonated with my sense of how important it is that we recover a sense of and a love of place, particularly the place where we make our home.
- He emphasized the encyclical’s call for an ecological conversion, and spoke of the need for the change of direction in our lives that comes with repentance from sin–strong words for a university audience. It struck me that this call penetrates to the heart of our challenge, which is ultimately not one of more scientific evidence, or just new technologies, as importance as these may be, but a fundamental change in our direction in how we think about both creation and our fellow human beings across the globe.
- A third concept he discussed was that of justice, which he defined as “respecting the demands of the relationship in which we exist.” I can see the implications this has both for how we relate to the creation and to our fellow human beings. In terms of this encyclical, an injustice to one is really an injustice to both.
He concluded with his hopes that this encyclical and similar statements from other religious bodies will give the world’s leaders that backbone they need to reach a binding agreement on climate change at this December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. I have to confess that he seemed more hopeful than I am of progress on this front.
The question I found myself wondering about is why there isn’t more talk of mobilizing Catholic and other religious bodies toward the kind of ecological conversion of which the encyclical speaks. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, or 16 percent of the world’s population. The encyclical reaches out to the wider human community as well, and has been responded to with interest from other religious communities. How many people does it take before an idea of caring for our common home reaches the “tipping point”? It doesn’t seem to me that political leaders respond to documents, even if they bear the papal imprimatur. What they do respond to is movements of the people. Gandhi, King, Mandela, and Walesa all led people movements shaped deeply by religious principles. Might we not hope and pray and work for such a movement around what arguably is the most important challenge to face humanity yet–protecting our common home for our children?