It has been almost five years since the publication of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ and today on The Catholic Man Reviews, I would like to reflect on this encyclical, specifically with Melville’ edition of the encyclical, which consists only of the english title: Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality – On Care for Our Common Home.
I like this edition compared to others published by other Catholic publishers is because there is an essay by Naomi Oreskes featured at the beginning of the encyclical, which gives the reader more context into the text. Orestes is a “Professor of History Science and Affiliate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University”. The book also states in her bio that “In May 2014, she attended “Sustainable Nature, Sustainable Humanity,” a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that helped to lay the foundations for Pope Francis’ Encyclical.”
Laudato Si’ has been, in my opinion, one of the most publicized Papal texts in the secular media. While Pope Francis has published several documents such as Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith), Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) or Gaudete and Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad), or even the controversial Amorim Laetitia (The Joy of Love)… these texts, by the very title itself, sounds Catholic, and its messages are geared towards a Catholic audience.
However, as I presented to my classmates in the “Biodiversity and the City” at the University of Toronto, I said that Laudato Si’ is not merely a Catholic text. Rather it is a “call of a world leader asking us to care for our ‘common home’ so to sustain it for the years to come”. Laudato Si’ is a text that could be read in various lenses: as Catholic text, a scientific approach, a political approach, or even just an informative approach. An interesting thing I found about this edition is that it is not categorized in the Christianity/Catholicism, or the Ecology section, but rather in the category of Political Science. Therefore, the essay that is presented at the beginning of this text is taken through the lens of Political Science, which in my opinion, is an eye-opener for me who have read many Papal Documents through merely a Catholic or Theological lens. To read Laudato Si’ through the lens of politics is to step outside Catholicity and Theology and see Pope Francis as a highly influential political figure because the Holy Father is not only a Spiritual Father, the Vicar, but in politics, he is a Head of State.
While the Pope is the Head of State of Vatican City, there is something about the political figure of the Pope that is different than, for example, the Prime Minister of Canada or the President of the United States. In all sincerity, the Pope’s voice does not advocate for his own country, but rather, a “voice for the voiceless” in the world. There are world leaders who turn a blind eye to the misfortuned, vulnerable people of society such as the poor, those who live on agriculture in third world countries, etc… yet these people are rarely mentioned by these world leaders. Unfortunately, these misfortune people are the ones who must suffer the effects of climate change, suffer the effects of the lavish and consumerist lives people in developed countries produce. In all that, Pope Francis is the world leader who advocates for the “voiceless” in the world, particularly with Laudato Si’. However, it is not just people who suffer from the changing environment that Pope Francis has advocated for. As a spiritual leader and political leader, Pope Francis has advocated for refugees, those suffering from the effects of war, those suffer from terrorism, racism, divisiveness in their society and condemning acts of division and terror. In a sense, the Pope is a paternal figure for the world and advocate for the most vulnerable people in society. It therefor makes sense that this edition calls it not, “Encyclical on Climate Change & the Environment” but I like the fact that those chose to title it “Encyclical on Climate Change & Inquality,” because Laudato Si’ is not just a document about the state of the environment, but speaks to the inequality present within the world. That is what Oreskes strives to frame in her introduction. She not only speaks of Laudato Si’ as an environmental document, but what the document speaks of the common good and justice within the world on a general picture through the lens of political science.
I think it is precisely for that reason that “general” documents addressed to the whole world like Laudato Si’ has drawn much attention. While some may think the Catholic Church is all about getting money out of people to build churches solely for prayer, in reality, the Catholic Church uses its voice to speak out against the injustices of the world.
Laudato Si’ is a document needed now than ever. As people in developed countries continue to live a consumerist culture, tragedies such as masses of dead fish in Vietnam or Australia’s ongoing wildfires should open our eyes to what Pope Francis has said in Laudato Si’.
No matter which lens you may put on to read Laudato Si’, it is a text for everyone who shares this “common home”. We have a responsibility to not only care for the environment, but mitigate the injustices in which the most vulnerable in the world must face its consequences.