In 2015 Pope Francis published Laudato Si (Praise to You O God) an encyclical about caring for the earth, our common home. In it, he critiqued consumerism and irresponsible development, lamented environmental degradation and global warming, and called all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action.” Yesterday Pope Francis published a, shorter, follow up letter addressed to all people of good will on the climate crisis called Laudate Deum (Praise God.) His Holiness pulls no punches and his letter reads as a cry on behalf of the earth.
The graphic below, published by the Vatican gives a summary of the text and I’m grateful to the Revd David Coleman, chaplain to Eco-Congregations Scotland, for his summary of the letter produced under the graphic.
I post a link to the papal letter at the end of this email and hope that you find some time to read it – it’s a surprisingly easy read for a papal document – and join me in Francis’ prayer:
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe 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.
With every good wish
The Rev’d Andy Braunston Minister for Digital Worship
graphic from the Vatican Dicastry for Promoting Integral Human Development
Laudato Si, published to coincide with the Paris Agreement which introduced the – now shaky – 1.5 degree target, became the single most useful environmental resource for people of faith in the last decade.
Clearly a team effort, it remains exemplary in the claiming of spiritual mainstream for social, political and environmental transformation.
The much shorter (7k words) and far more personal “apostolic exhortation”, Laudate Deum, building on and substantially sharpening the tone of Laudato Si, is a compellingly well-evidenced update.
It concludes with a catalogue of Bible-study possibilities which could be developed into a series for local congregations.
I’m delighted to report that the obsolete term ‘stewardship’ which stunts our relationship with Creation, does not occur in this document. It’s no accident that you won’t find it either in the URC environmental policy, or the most recent stuff from Tear Fund or the Iona Community. What’s the problem with this cherished idea which once seemed the answer to our tendency to read ‘dominion’ (Genesis 1:28 KJV) as ‘domination’? The problem is that a steward is responsible only to the owner of property’: property that doesn’t get a say. Overtones of colonialism have also been identified in this idea of stewardship, which some in the URC have found deeply troubling as we come to terms with our own legacies of slavery. Whereas throughout Scripture, the voices and personalities of Creation are prominent. Notwithstanding a special responsibility, we are kin, rather than kings. The Franciscan insistence, quoted in Laudato Si, is that the Earth is like a beloved and generous relative “who sustains and governs” us. Do you ‘steward’ your boss? Would your mother or sister put up with being ‘stewarded’? . Mine wouldn’t.
Laudate Deum, an extended sermon brimming with meme-worthy quotes in the light of the exacerbation of the crises of nature and climate, is passionately intolerant of the toxic stupidity of fake science and the marginalisation of ‘green’ concerns as if they were not “a human and social problem on any number of levels”. The papal gloves are off as regards clearly identified strategies and proponents of denialism and obstructionism: it’s a fight for justice, from a well-informed advocate for the rights of the poor. “The irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model” is also exposed.
Frustration is expressed in the obligation to state the “obvious” about the crisis, but with much greater confidence – and humility- in doing so. Every (spiritual) house – including the Catholic Church – is to be put in order: not through the blunt exercise of power, but by being confronted with what are now unarguable facts about the impact and causes of ‘crisis’.
The ineffectiveness of the UN and patchy achievements of COP conferences are reviewed in a call for a more balanced multilateralism in global relations, repurposing rather than reinventing the channels of diplomacy and international co-operation: “It is no longer helpful for us to support institutions in order to preserve the rights of the more powerful without caring for those of all.”
It could be said that the UK government has moved into this firing line with motivations given for their u-turn on net-zero and fossil fuel exploration, for “.. “international negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good.”
Pope Francis is positive about the beneficial potential of the human role in the web of life, especially our tenderness, sensitivity and the value of beauty – about everything crushed by the ‘technocratic paradigm’ which aims to make of fellow creatures “slave[s], prey to any whim of the human mind and its capacities.” For “human life is incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures.”