I received a letter last week from Pope Francis.  So did you.  The letter is addressed to the whole of humankind, not only Roman Catholics and not simply Christians.  Francis writes “I wish to address every living person on the planet” (2).

The letter addresses the profound danger the world faces from environmental deterioration: the destruction of Sister Earth, our common home.  The title of the letter is taken from Saint Francis’ beautiful canticle, Laudato Si’, Praise be to you my Lord – best known now through the English hymn, “All creatures of our God and King”.

Francis plea is for the whole human family to come together at this key moment in our history to seek sustainable development across the earth.  The letter describes what is happening to our common home: an accelerating process of decay.  He draws attention to pollution on a massive scale; to climate change which threatens to change life on earth for ever, to acute water shortages, to the loss of biodiversity.  The letter draws out the clear consequences for human life and the breakdown of human society.  All of these developments heighten and increase inequality across the earth and disproportionately affect the poorest nations.  The poor should be at the heart of our concern for the environment and the two cannot be separated.

The world faces immense problems rooted in the misuse of the earth: “never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years” (53).  And yet: “it is remarkable how weak international political responses have been” (54).  The letter is a wake up call to a complacent world.

Chapter Two of the letter set out a clear and detailed basis for Christians (and others) to renew their commitment to the earth rooted in Scripture and the doctrine of creation:

“The entire material universe speaks to us of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.  Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God” (84).

Chapter Three explores the human roots of the ecological crisis.  This is where the letter becomes far more than a call to recycle or reduce our carbon footprint.  The abuse of Sister Earth is linked in a profound way to our way of understanding human life and activity.  Our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads.  We have placed ourselves at the centre of the universe, as masters of creation and failed to understand in a profound way what life is for.

A better and more profound understanding is needed.  At its heart is the concept of the interconnectedness of life caught by the phrase an integral ecology.  We are not isolated individuals but part of the larger universe and in a particular place within it.  In Chapter Four, Francis explores environmental, economic and social ecology, cultural ecology and the ecology of daily life.  These three central chapters on the theology of the environment, on the roots of the crisis in our misunderstanding of what it means to be human and on a better vision are immensely rich and creative.  The quotation which best sums up these chapters is from Benedict XVI:

“The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast” (152).

Evironmental degradation is a consequence of the human condition, not an accident of it.

In Chapter Five, Francis turns to lines of approach and action.  These are to be rooted in Christian hope and the expectation that things can change.  He highlights, as expected, the importance of dialogue on the environment in the international community and the forthcoming Climate Change conference in Paris.  But Francis highlights as well the importance of more local dialogues and local politics and the call to bring economics politics, science and religions into the conversation at every level.

In the sixth and final chapter, the letter turns to what we ourselves can do.  “A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal” (202).  We are to be partners not observers in this conversation.

Lifestyle is key as we each learn to live sustainable lives.  Education is vital in schools, homes and seminaries.  Francis coins and uses the term “ecological conversion”: part of our discipleship is recovering our responsibility to the earth:

“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to the life of virtue; it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (217).

But individual action is not enough.  Love must lead us to political action as well, to act in hope to renew the mindset of the world and reform our stewardship of the earth.

Laudato Si’ is a profound and helpful document and I commend it to you.  Last week our Archbishops and other Faith Leaders signed a renewed Lambeth Declaration calling for all people of faith to recommit themselves to the care of the earth and action on climate change.  On 17th June, 10,000 people took part in a mass lobby of Parliament organized by the Climate Change Coalition (which includes our own Hope for the Future campaign).

Next month one of the key debates at General Synod will be on combatting climate change, the Paris Summit and the question of climate change and investment.

Each of us needs to take seriously this aspect of our discipleship: our ecological conversion.  Care for the environment is one of the major issues of our age.  How will you engage with all that it means and help your church, your parish, your school, your local council and your government do the same?


Some links and resources:

The Encyclical Letter, LAUDATO SI’ can be found here.

The Church of England General Synod document on Combatting Climate Change and the Lambeth Declaration is here.

The Christian Aid report of the mass lobby of Parliament is here.

Hope for the Future’s website and campaign details are here.

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Marilyn
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Marilyn

Thank you , Bishop. This is such a huge problem. I have for several years simply not known what I can do beyond RRR and pray. I am encouraged by Romans 4.20. The problem may be huge but our God is greater. And your blog, the encyclical and the forthcoming debate at General Synod may be the pointers to the action the world needs to embark upon. Thankl you again.

Coralee
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Coralee

Full of salient points. Don’t stop beniivelg or writing!