Neither “eco” nor “green”: A social encyclical

by Michael Czerny S.J., Office of the President, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

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CIMG1076.2

Published on N. 121 of Semanario Ecclesia, 18 June 2015 in Portuguese.

English version below.

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It is the Holy Father himself who best explained the process whereby the encyclical Laudato si' was "born":

"Cardinal Turkson and his team prepared the first draft. Then, with some help, I took it and worked on it, then with a few theologians I made a third draft and sent a copy to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the second section of the Secretariat of State, and to the Theologian of the Papal Household to take a look at it, so that I would not say anything “silly”! Three weeks ago I got their responses back, some of them this thick, but all of them constructive. Now I will take a week of March, an entire week, to complete it. I believe that by the end of March it will be finished and sent out for translation. I think that if the work of translation goes well, ... then it can come out in June or July." (15.01.15)

Thus "parent" of the encyclical is clearly Pope Francis. The process was one of dialogue and consultation, of writing and rewriting. The footnotes testify to the many and varied contributions, from his predecessors St John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, through many Bishops' Conferences as well as the "beloved" Patriarch Bartholomew, to thinkers and writers both ancient and modern. Besides contributors and editors and reviewers, there are also translators and others involved in bringing the text to its final form. May the Lord, who knows each one by name, bless them all generously for their efforts.

The encyclical thereby brings together the thinking of Pope Francis, as already expressed in his first homily as pope on the 19th of March 2013, with the contributions of bishops and bishops conferences, theologians and scientists, Christian tradition and ecumenical contributions.

The meaning of Laudato si' is not primarily "catholic ecology". Rather, it is the latest in the series of Encyclicals which have developed Catholic Social Teaching since Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum of 1892. In fact, Laudato si' can be read as a "rerum novarum of 2015". Like the previous social encyclicals, it sheds the eternal light of the Gospel, of Christian faith, on the changing and challenging circumstances of our times. It is the Church seeking to evangelize God's people as we face the greatest difficulties, the most difficult obstacles, on our journey towards "life, life to the full" (John 10:10). 

Thus, Laudato si' is not "eco" or "green". Rather, with its point of departure in the most pressing issues of environmental degradation, it seeks to guide us towards "ecological conversion" from our great sins of self-centredness which destroy both solidarity with other people and stewardship of our common home. Laudato si' leads us to live in greater harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbour and with the earth.