Five years ago, Pope Francis called people of faith to action. Early in his second encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, the Holy Father boldly proclaimed that “humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” Elaborating on the Catholic Church’s commitment to care for God’s creation, Laudato Si’ highlights many instructive themes for believers, especially the interconnectedness of human beings and the environment. He also expresses a deep concern for those who are marginalized and who often experience the worst consequences of environmental degradation.
Laudato Si’ is not the first effort from the Church to present Catholic “care of creation” teaching, as Pope Francis builds on the examples of saints and previous pontiffs, including St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Bonaventure, Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI. The pope’s encyclical is significant as it brings the Church’s ongoing insights to the larger societal dialogue concerning the environment.
Pope Francis seeks to “help [humanity] acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face” on issues such as pollution, waste, climate change, a lack of access to clean and affordable water, the depletion of natural resources, and global inequality. Everyone should have a place in the dialogue about the future of the planet, as it “[affects] us all” (no. 13–15). During this fifth anniversary of the pope’s letter, the Church in Michigan encourages all Catholics to reflect upon what it means to participate in dialogue and what insights each person may have to share.
The opportunity for reflection comes as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to adversely affect worldwide health and economic outcomes. Yet, despite the deep challenges of these past few months, Michiganders have been uniquely reminded of the importance of God’s creation. In the midst of uncertainty, the outdoors remained an area of refuge for those otherwise sheltered inside by Michigan’s stay-at-home order. Trees provided the backdrop for children acting out adventures as their school buildings were closed for the year. And while following proper social distancing protocols, neighborhood parks and nature trails offered a respite from the monotony of the indoors and the overwhelming nature of the virus.
The pandemic has also highlighted the significance of human relationships. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis speaks extensively about what he has termed the “throwaway culture,” a societal mentality that views everything as disposable, replaceable, or temporary, including relationships (no. 21). The Catholic Church has preached a different perspective, one that recognizes the dignity of all people regardless of their achievements or perceived usefulness. The separation between loved ones, colleagues, and community members these past few months has reminded that love, support, and human contact are key components of a fulfilling life.
Laudato Si’ calls for the development of an integral ecology, which connects care of the environment with care for the human person. Practically speaking, an integral ecology addresses the complex and connected issues that the world today faces, such as poverty; the denial of dignity to some in society, including the unborn and the elderly; and the rapid overconsumption and destruction of the environment.
To explore the encyclical, as well as the Catholic response in Michigan to the Holy Father’s call, Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) dedicated its latest Focus publication to the topic. The piece, Care for Our Common Home: Reflecting on Laudato Si’, as well as other helpful resources, are available at micatholic.org/LaudatoSi.
Using these resources, people of faith may examine how they can more fully respect nature and their fellow human beings, both by changing individual habits and by participating in wider community actions. In taking the time for careful examination, Michigan Catholics have the opportunity to prove that the Holy Father’s bold proclamation is true: “humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”