Pope Francis issues new encyclical addressing ecology and the environment

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis released the much anticipated encyclical Laudato Si which addresses human and environmental ecology. Even prior to its release, commentators and journalists were speculating as to what the Holy Father might say—and now we know. 

Laudato Si is developed around the concept of integral ecology, as a paradigm able to articulate the fundamental relationships of the person: with God, with one’s self, with other human beings, and with creation. Pope Francis says that this movement starts by listening to the results of the best scientific research on environmental matters available today, “letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows.” 

The objective is to develop an integral ecological profile which, in its various dimensions, includes “our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings.” 

Bishop Burbidge responded to Laudato Si with the following statement:

It is with great joy that we receive the Holy Father’s most recent encyclical, Laudato Si(“Praise be to you”). 

This encyclical is a rich resource that I respectfully call upon all the faithful to read carefully and to reflect upon how the Holy Father’s words will assist us in being more effective stewards of God’s creation and protectors of the poor. 

I also ask that all in our diocese, with the help of study sessions that will be offered in parishes, study this rich resource; and most importantly to bring it to prayer so to be made fully aware of the message that God wants us to hear as stewards of his creation.

The encyclical is broken up into chapters, each addressing a particular topic. Some of the key topics include: 

  • The intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet
  • The conviction that everything in the world is connected
  • The critique of the new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology
  • The call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress
  • The value proper to each creature
  • The human meaning of ecology
  • The need for forthright and honest debate
  • The serious responsibility of international and local policy
  • The throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle

CLICK HERE to read the new encyclical. 

For helpful resources related to the Catholic Church’s position on the environment as well as resources for parishes and clergy, CLICK HERE

Where does the name “Laudato Si” mean and where did it come from?

"Laudato Si” (Praised Be You), the title Pope Francis chose for his encyclical on the environment, comes from a hymn of praise by St. Francis of Assisi that emphasizes being in harmony with God, with other creatures and with other human beings, said the head of the Franciscan order.

What is an Encyclical?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an “encyclical” as, “A pastoral letter written by the Pope and sent to the whole Church and even to the whole world, to express Church teaching on some important matter. Encyclicals are expressions of the ordinary papal magisterium.” 

The primary purposes of an encyclical is to either further explain Church teachings beyond current knowledge, or to clarify a point of Church teaching related to faith or morals that has been misunderstood in the time during which it was written. 

What is the role of the Magisterium of the Church?

The Catechism says, “It is the Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defection and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates (890).”

Has the Church spoken out on issues related to the environment before?

The Catholic Church has a long history of advocating for the proper care of God’s creation. This care addresses not only a respect for gifts given to mankind by God for their basic needs, but it also address the reality that when environmental ecology is exploited or unnecessarily harmed, the poor are typically the first to suffer. 

Most recently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the issue of ecology and the Holy Father’s not-then released encyclical during the Annual Spring General Assembly in St. Louis. Archbishop Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, at the time said the document will very likely highlight climate change as "a moral issue," pointing out that the poor suffer the most from consequences of improper care of the environment, even though "they have contributed least to climate change."

Pope Paul VI, in 1971, issued an Apostolic Letter, in which he said, “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation.” 

In June 2013, Pope Francis spoke about the spiritual failing of wasting food when others go hungry. “This culture of waste has also made us insensitive to wasting and throwing out excess foodstuffs, which is especially condemnable when, in every part of the world, unfortunately, many people and families suffer hunger and malnutrition,” he stated during a General Audience.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II both spoke and wrote at great length about how the exploitation and degradation of the environment will hurt all of humanity, particularly the poor, and that it reflected a spiritual concern of caring for God’s creation and respecting the gifts He has provided.

CLICK HERE to read quotes and excerpts from previous popes related to human and environmental ecology. 

Is this Pope Francis’ first encyclical? 

Lumen Fidei (translated, means "The Light of Faith") was Pope Francis’ first encyclical. He signed it on June 29, 2013 and it was officially published on July 5, 2013, just four short months after his election as Pope. The encyclical focused on faith. His predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had written on the two other theological virtues of hope (Spe Salvi) and charity (Deus caritas est). 

Why is an encyclical on this topic important at this moment in time? 

When asked this question, Father Thomas Rosica, English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, said, “From the beginning of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis made it clear that his choice of his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology was indicative of his concern for the environment. In his inaugural Mass homily, he called on everyone to be ‘protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.’… Pope Francis has issued to the Church and the world a profound challenge to rethink the culture of waste and to contemplate seriously and act with conviction against the dynamics of an economy and finance that lack ethics. ‘Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules.’”