From the Cardinal: Caring for our common home| October 6, 2023
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Vol. 5. No. 2
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
On October 4, we observed the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, a man whose love for all God’s creation has inspired millions of people from many different religions, cultures and walks of life for nearly 800 years. Francis is the namesake of our current pope because of the saint’s humility and love for the poor. He is also the inspiration for Pope Francis’s 2015 Encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home) and the newly published continuation of this encyclical, Laudate Deum, which was released just two days ago as we honored St. Francis and began the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. This newsletter contains a reflection on Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home). I will share some thoughts on Laudate Deum in future newsletters.
“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs” (“Laudato Si’,” #1). In the words of this beautiful canticle, St. 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.
Laudato Si’ is not a political, economic or scientific treatise. It is an encyclical, a “profound letter” addressed by the pope to Church leaders, the faithful, and all women and men of good will on a matter of great importance to the Church and the world. In this case, the letter addressed by Pope Francis to the world community is about our responsibility to nurture and protect all that God has made.
This encyclical is deeply rooted in a hymn of praise whose final verse concerning Sister Death was composed by St. Francis of Assisi on his deathbed in 1226. We call this magnificent Franciscan hymn The Canticle of the Sun, and unless we appreciate its significance as an expression of authentic Christian ecology, we cannot grasp the full importance of the Holy Father’s teaching in “Laudato Si’.”
Pope Francis tells us, “I do not want to write this encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that St. Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians.
“He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, and his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (#10).
“Laudato Si’” addresses this “inseparable bond” between care for the environment and the love of humanity, which alone makes justice and peace possible. The pope tells us we cannot be authentically eco-friendly unless we are also unselfish, loving and fair in our treatment of our fellow human beings—especially those who are most vulnerable, the poor, the sick and the unborn.
A profound reverence and respect for all God’s creatures (for all things visible and invisible) springs not from philosophy or science, but from the deeply personal love each of us is called to have for our Creator God. Because we love God, we love every good thing that God has made.
And so, we sing with St. Francis and Pope Francis a hymn of praise for Brother Sun and Sister Moon—and for earth and sky, wind and water, and all our sisters and brothers in the one family of God. We offer this hymn conscious that without the help of God’s grace, we would not be worthy to stand in the Lord’s presence and give him thanks. After all, we are sinners who have abused the gifts God has given us, including the gifts of earth and sky, water and wind.
Awareness of our sinfulness, of our culpability in the serious challenges we face environmentally, is central to Laudato Si’. Pope Francis does not shy away from his responsibility to speak with a prophetic voice whenever necessary to remind us that indifference is a sin and that we will all—each one of us—be held accountable for our stewardship of God’s creation. Let’s read Laudato Si’ prayerfully with an open mind and heart. Let’s sing with St. Francis and Pope Francis this verse of The Canticle of the Sun: “Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer,
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Newark
SUMMARY OF POPE FRANCIS’S ENCYCLICAL Laudato Si’ (ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME)
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“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord.” These are the words that open Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology and care for God’s creation. These words, quoting St. Francis of Assisi’s beautiful canticle, remind 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.
Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’ was released in June 2015. Five years later, in 2020, Pope Francis invited all Catholics and people of good will to celebrate its fifth anniversary by protecting families and future generations through action to care for our common home. Here are themes that Pope Francis highlighted in Laudato Si’ which require our urgent response today.
• A Moral and Spiritual Challenge. The ecological crisis, Pope Francis writes, is a summons to profound interior conversion—to renew our relationships with God, one another, and the created world.
• Care for God’s Creation. God created the world and entrusted it to us as a gift. Now we have the responsibility to care for and protect it and all people who are part of creation. Protecting human dignity is strongly linked to care for creation.
• We are All Connected. We are connected to the rest of the human family, to the created world, and to those who will come after us in future generations.
• Impact on the Poor. People in poverty have contributed least to climate change, yet they are disproportionately impacted by it. As a result of excessive use of natural resource by wealthy nations, those who are poor experience pollution, lack of access to clean water, hunger, and more.
• Called to Solidarity. We are one human family and have a shared responsibility for others and for creation. Wealthy countries have a responsibility to reduce consumption of non-renewal resources and should help poorer nations develop in sustainable ways.
• Technological and economic development must serve human beings and enhance human dignity, instead of creating an economy of exclusion, so that all people have access to what is needed for authentic human development.
• Supporting Life, Protecting Creation. Concern for nature is incompatible with failure to protect vulnerable human beings, such as unborn children, people with disabilities, or victims of human trafficking.
• A Time to Act. Pope Francis calls for a change in lifestyle and consumption. We can make important changes as individuals, families, and communities, and as civil and political leaders.
• Hope and Joy. “Injustice is not invincible” (no. 74) and we act knowing that we seek to live out God’s vision of renewed relationships with God, ourselves, one another, and creation.
How You Can Respond
Each of us is called to take concrete steps – from reducing consumption to working for political change – to better care for creation. Here are some ideas.
1. Become more aware of our connectedness. Care for one another and creation includes understanding that “everything is connected” (no. 91) and that the economy, politics, community involvement, and technology all affect the future of the planet and humankind. How can we become more aware of our connectedness?
2. Changes to lifestyle and consumption habits can make a big difference. For example, get a reusable water bottle, take shorter showers, walk, bike or take public transportation instead of driving, recycle, compost food waste, and buy energy-efficient appliances.
3. Make changes institutionally at your parish, school, or workplace. For example, start recycling and composting, use washable dinnerware in cafeterias, share electronically instead of printing, do an energy audit, and install solar panels.
4. Support local efforts to solve environmental problems. Community groups around the country are working to make city, county, and state-wide changes that can make a big difference. Find out what is going on locally and get involved.
5. Contact your members of Congress to share Pope Francis’ message and urge action to address climate change.
For More Information:
A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope
A selection from Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home)
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord.” 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. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air, and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
13. The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; He never forsakes His loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home that we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.
14. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.”  All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.
15. It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition, which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the present situation, so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes. This will help to provide an approach to ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings. In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy. Finally, convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.
My Prayer for You
Please join me in praying with these words from Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home):
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.