The Man Who Penned the Green Encyclical - Laudato Si'
Updated: Feb 11
First, I want to thank all the amazing teachers that I had. Period.
Why? They taught me that before you delve deeply into the wisdom of any book, even Laudato Si', you must get to know the wielder(s) of the pen(s) that brought this green encyclical to life.
Probe their imaginations,
Find out the people, places, and events that influenced them.,
Explore what motivated them to pick up the pen - and why.
If you do the wisdom held in the pages will speak even more clearly to you.
Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it. Seamus Heaney Death of a Naturalist (1966)
I still remember the exact moment that Pope Francis' election was announced. I was in the common room at Regis College, the Jesuit College of Theology at the University of Toronto (#regiscollege @RegisCollege) partaking in a St. Patty's Day celebration -- one that revolved around a large screened TV rolled in for this groundbreaking moment. When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was announced the room erupted! And my phone almost vibrated out of my pocket. My friends were calling and texting the news -- and they now thought I had a much better chance of getting a job (I was in my third year of a PhD) since the new pope was such a lover of Earth and the poor -- and a Jesuit to boot.
We will see, I thought to myself as I picked up another piece of homemade Irish soda bread.
I did get a job within months at Wingate University in NC -- and was able to continue my work as an ecotheologian. And Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio choose St Francis of Assisi as his name and guide for his papacy.
An Embrace of Poverty
A Love of Sacred Creation
Celebration of Kinship
His preaching to Birds
A Love of Brother Sun and Sister Moon
A recognition of the face of Christ suffering in the world
Who is this Pope Francis and what made him write and publish Laudato Si' within two years and two months of his election?
Pope Francis has committed to live in solidarity with those pushed to the margins of society just like St. Francis of Assisi did in the twelfth century: “My people are poor and I am one of them.” Biography of Pope Francis.
And just like his namesake, Pope Francis cares about Earth and the people inhabiting it. He wrote this letter to bring the world’s attention to the fact that our planet is being destroyed and this impacts everyone— but the vulnerable even more. This commitment to Earth and the poor informs everything he does as pope.
This does not mean that his papal predecessors did not embrace the poor and Earth Paragraph 3– 12 of Laudato Si’ is a grateful recognition of their good work -- but it is lacking a bit. He missed announcing the longstanding and truly amazing work of women religious, lay women and men, and what has been happening at the intersection of world religions and global spiritual movements.
Here are a few who have impacted my formation... in no particular order and please forgive the lack of comprehensiveness to this list. On impulse, these formidable thinkers rose to the forefront of my mind.
Hildegard of Bingen - 12th century Benedictine Abbess, Healer, Musician
Elizabeth Johnson - A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood and distinguished Professor Emerita of Theology at Fordham University (a Jesuit institution in New York City)
Ilia Delio - Franciscan Sister of Washington, DC. and the Josephine C Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University
Gloria Schaab - Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia and Professor of Systematic Theology, Barry University
Sisters of St. Joseph - Toronto (and their new green building!)
Ursuline Sisters of Chatham - Justice seekers for the vulnerable, including Earth and supporters of young female scholastics -- including me!
Rachel Carson -- marine biologist and activist against DDT in the US
Robin Wall Kimmerer -- member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, mother, scientist, decorated author (e.g., Braiding Sweetgrass)
Vandana Shiva -- an Indian physicist, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author
Joanna Macy - an environmental activist, author, scholar of Buddhism, and deep ecologist
All the formidable women in parishes, higher education, schools, homes, and businesses around the world tirelessly (and often thanklessly) laboring to make this world better -- more hospitable, just and green.
Cheers and Thank you ... I am standing on the shoulders of giants
However, the urgency of Earth’s impending demise, which echoes in the cries of the poor, inspired Pope Francis to make this commitment more intentionally and repeatedly than those who went before him.
Who is this man? How does he understand so much about people and ecosystems?
First, he earned a degree in chemistry and a licentiate in philosophy. Thus, he understands the scientific facts that are telling us how much Earth is struggling and some patterns of thinking that have contributed to this.
And as a Cardinal, he heard fellow priests from all over the world talk about how water scarcity, deforestation, food insecurity, air pollution, and oil spills made the suffering of so many much worse.
These stories formed him.
They invigorated his imagination and cultivated his spirit.
Now he had something to write about.
He made space in this green letter for many grassroots voices, a powerful act of humility and servant leadership.
Then he used his privilege to open doors, windows, and hearts. He made the voice of Earth and the poor heard at the highest levels, gained audiences with fossil fuel corporations and presidents, supported bishops fighting for justice, and inspired people of faith to ecological conversion.
To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world. Dr Seuss
This is leadership I would walk through fire for.
Is he perfect? No one is and even this green encyclical missed the mark in places.
But at least he has stepped up to the plate and is living out what he believes.
Drives a simple car
Wears plain shoes
Lives in a small apartment in St. Martha's house
Welcomes people with disabilities
Washes the feet of Muslim migrants
Calls politicians and Christians to accountability
"We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life." Pope Francis, June 2020
Remind you of anyone?
Pope Francis weaves a powerful story that speaks to the inter-connectivity of all Earth’s life systems and the need for new ways to honestly talk about what “economy” and “progress” should be -- especially in a COVID-19 world.
He asks readers like you and I to examine how we value our common home so that the scales can fall from our eyes and we will see and love our planetary neighbors anew.
The Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor Cannot Continue -- Pope Francis, May 2020
Are you willing to walk with me on this year long journey of awakening and eco-conversion?
It is a wild ride but one worth taking.
You will never be the same -- Thank God.