‘Laudato Si’: justice, peace and care of Creation
POPE FRANCIS clearly states that “Laudato Si” is part of the Catholic Church’s body of social teaching (LS 15). While the social encyclicals from “Rerum Novarum” until “Caritas in Veritate” analyzed the socioeconomic structures that breed inequality and cause a large number of people to live lives that are hardly in accord with their dignity as God’s children, “Laudato Si” shifts the focus to the care of Creation. The past social encyclicals like “Caritas in Veritate” and “Centisimus Annus” also discussed the importance of environmental protection, but “Laudato Si” is the first one that has made a clear “ecological turn” in the social teaching tradition.
Such a turn is not entirely new because religious and ecclesial communities have long acknowledged the nexus between the advocacy for justice and peace with the concern for and care of Creation. This is clearly indicated in renaming the promotion of “justice and peace” to “justice, peace and integrity of Creation” or “justice, peace and care of Creation.” In a sense, the encyclical is a papal affirmation of such a shift: “I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected” (LS 16).
The book of Genesis teaches that Creation is God’s handiwork; hence, we are all connected in God. St. Francis of Assisi celebrates such connectedness with a song of praise to God for “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” for “Brother Wind” and “Sister Water.” How might Filipinos understand such a hymn? Filipinos are family-oriented. The Filipino term for brother or sister is “kapatid” (synonym, “utol” from “kaputol”), which points to “shared life” because our umbilical cords were cut—i.e., “pinatid” or “pinutol”—from the same womb. Thus, to sing St. Francis’ song of praise to God for Brother Sun and Sister Moon is to acknowledge a shared origin in God’s Fatherhood. From this theological starting point, the encyclical proceeds to outline the moral imperative to care for our “common home.”
Pope Francis proposes concrete lines of action in caring for our common home, including dialogue on various levels. It is noteworthy that the encyclical itself is an exemplar of such dialogue. In “Laudato Si,” the Pope writes in profound dialogue with the Christian tradition: He draws strong inspiration from St. Francis and quotes Aquinas and De Chardin; he is in dialogue with the papal magisterium of his predecessors, St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI; he is in ecumenical dialogue with Patriarch Bartholomew and with other faith traditions by quoting Ali-al-Khawas, a ninth-century Muslim mystic; he is in dialogue even with philosophers like Paul Ricoeur. More importantly, he is in dialogue with his brother bishops spread throughout the world.
National episcopal conferences (e.g., the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) and regional episcopal conferences (e.g., the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences) would invariably invoke papal encyclicals and other magisterial documents in their pastoral letters and similar documents to signify the local reception of the Pope’s universal teaching authority. For the very first time in the history of social encyclicals, the Holy Father draws from the wisdom of the local or particular churches and brings them to the attention of the Universal Church by making them part of the encyclical. We read in “Laudato Si” 17 citations of documents written by various episcopal conferences, including the CBCP (LS 41). It might be well to note that the Pope has started drawing from the wisdom of his brother bishops in the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” where there are about 13 citations from the work of various episcopal conferences. This means that he is truly listening to his brother bishops.
So, when the Pope calls for dialogue on how to take good care of our “common home,” he shows us that he is ready not just to speak but to listen attentively as well.
Citing the works of the various episcopal conferences is also indicative of a strong sense of collegiality.
“Laudato Si” is an encyclical that is written in a style that is comprehensible to everyone. After all, it is a call to care for our common home; thus, it ought to be understood by all who inhabit this home. While there are proposed lines of action that require complex preparation (e.g., dialogue on the environment by the international community), some can be done right away by everyone (e.g., “Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity,” LS 211).
Pope Francis has confirmed and affirmed the conviction of many that recycling, segregating wastes, carpooling and the like (LS 211) are not just expressions of civic-mindedness but, more profoundly, of fidelity to Christ who commands us to love our neighbor who share with us a common home.
Fr. Gerard Timoner III, OP, heads the Philippine Dominican Province and has been appointed by Pope Francis a member of the International Theological Commission. He took up higher theological studies at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
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