Pope Francis’ Encyclical‘Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home’ was released on June 18th. In the opening statements to the Encyclical, Pope Francis makes his intention clear “to address every person living on this planet” (#3). He says “this sister (mother earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (#2).
In the first Chapter, he states that “we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation” (#48); he deals here with several “aspects of the present ecological crisis”: pollution, waste and the throw-away culture; climate as a common good; displacement and migration caused by environmental degradation; access to safe drinking water as a basic and universal human right; loss of bio-diversity; decline in the quality of human life and break down of society; global inequality. He also denounces pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Pope Francis blatantly notes that “the earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production” (#32). In making such statements, in taking a stand for the ‘care of our common home’, Pope Francis has indeed created several enemies among the rich and powerful, the vested interests and those who are bent on profiteering by plundering very precious and scarce natural resources. This is indicative from the fact that a new Gallup Poll conducted in the United States after the Encyclical was released shows that his ratings had dropped by more than 18% points among fairly large sections of Americans and particularly the rich and the conservatives.
But Pope Francis certainly does not care. Throughout the Encyclical, he has been insisting that we have been called to be stewards of the creation God has entrusted to us. He ensures that ‘Laudato Si’ focuses on human rights violations and injustices. He does not mince words when he says “in the present condition of global society, whereinjustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (#158).
What is needed ultimately, emphasizes Pope Francis, is a radical commitment to ensure that positive change which is the need of the hour. For this he says, every section of society must play a definite role. The Pope does not spare the priests of the Catholic Church and he calls upon them to engage with the faithful on environmental issues. He calls upon international and national Governments and mechanisms: “the same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions” (#175)
There is always the danger that several would like to keep ‘Laudato Si’ at the level of cosmeticization; to tinker with bits and parts, to be selective and comfortable in its reading; but ‘Laudato Si’ is indeed path-breaking, radical in nature, it makes one uncomfortable and touches every single dimension of our human existence. The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, tochange directions so that we can truly care for our common home; he challenges all: “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, tochildren who are now growing up?” (#160). Not to pay heed to Pope Francis’ prophetic words, to rubbish this timely and important message or to relegate it to mere tree-planting would certainly be a great disservice not to the Pope but to Planet Earth!