2021 marks the celebration of 50 years of Earth Day and six years since the publication of Pope Francis’ second encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home on May 24. Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si' or “Praise Be to You” is an urgent call to tackle the current ecological crisis by making a paradigm shift that will allow all human beings to live sustainably in dignity. To celebrate the end of the Laudato Si’ Special Anniversary Year, Pope Francis invites the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to joyfully participate in Laudato Si’ Week 2021, 16-24 May and to celebrate the great progress the whole Church has made on its journey to ecological conversion. The theme for the weeklong celebration is, “For we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’ 13).
Laudato Si echoes St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun in its praise of God’s creation. In the canticle, St Francis thanks God for such creations as "Brother Wind", "Sister Water" and “Mother Earth”. The canticle is an affirmation of his personal theology, as he often referred to animals as our brothers and sisters; and rejected material accumulation. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. With unparalleled clarity he perceived the basic unity of all creation and his own place in the midst of God's creatures, at one with them not lording it above them.
Both the message of Earth Day this year, “Restore Our Earth” and Pope Francis’ encyclical “Care for our Common Home” give us reason to consider the harm we have collectively caused our “sister” and our “mother” Earth. Both out-line why we must all work to care for and restore the Earth; not just because we care about the natural world, but because we live on it, because it is our home. Both urge us to protect the Earth and our local communities for everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable who are largely powerless to effect any real change.
No matter how you might feel about this, indifferent, overwhelmed or somewhere in-between, it is worth noting: there is a big difference between considering, reflecting, and talking about something and actually doing it. Dreams are obviously important. Aspirations, ideas and hope for the future are part of what gives purpose to our lives and keeps us moving forward. We especially need hope in a moment like the present one. If we don’t have hope and a positive mindset that we will end up somewhere different and somewhere better than we are, right now, then we might as well just pack it in and succumb to the inevitable. While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I assume if you’re still reading this that you’re not someone who wants to do that. Nor am I.
How then, do we make our dreams and hopes a reality? It’s paradoxically quite simple and really hard. We stop dreaming, create a plan and take action. We set realistic goals and action steps that help us to move forward, little by little, until we get to where we want to be. It’s simple, but it’s not without work and sacrifice.
Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and author of the influential report on climate change The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, stated that, "The publication of the Pope's encyclical is of enormous significance. He has shown great wisdom and leadership. Pope Francis is surely absolutely right that climate change raises vital moral and ethical issues.... Moral leadership on climate change from the Pope is particularly important because of the failure of many heads of state and government around the world to show political leadership."
Laudato Si comes at a critical time in human history. With scientific and technological advances roaring into the marketplace at an ever-accelerating pace, there comes increasing costs to the planet's resources and life-giving eco-systems, as well as new social and moral dilemmas that call for the truth of the Gospel more than ever.
To combat the problem Pope Francis explains how science and religion must work together, with scientists, “using their God-given talents for the service of others” (Laudato Si’ 131). However, he clarifies this, stating that science and technology should serve humanity for its betterment, not the other way around. "The sciences and technologies are made for man and for the world, not the man and the world for science and technology. They are at the service of a dignified and healthy life for all, now and in the future, and make our common home more liveable and supportive, more careful and guarded" (Laudato Si’ 200).
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis explains that while science will be crucial in offering ideas and strategies, it alone, cannot provide a comprehensive answer to our common social and ecological problems. This is because science will be unable to motivate people to undertake the lifestyle changes that will be required of us to live in harmony with creation: “Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well” (Laudato Si’ 200). In other words, while science may find a solution to our current social and ecological ills, it will not be solely capable of mobilising the common will. A collective shift is needed to actually make that solution happen.
During this special anniversary year of Laudato Si’ the Dicastery for Promotion of Integral Human Development will launch a new program and a public commitment for various institutions to begin a 7-year journey to total sustainability in the spirit of Laudato Si’. The Laudato Si’ Action Platform will create a space for the universal Church to learn and grow together as we take “decisive action, here and now” to care for each other and the home we share.
More information about Laudato Si Week can be found at laudatosiweek.org.