Five years have passed since the publication of the encyclical of Pope Francesco Laudato Sì (LS) on the "care of the common home" (May 24, 2015).
The analysis of this anniversary, in its aspects of its lights and shadows, of achievements and challenges, still beyond even being understood, cannot disregard the current epidemic season of Covid-19, which is involving us deep down in the fibers of our being human. It is precisely with the magnifying glass offered by this historical contingency that I would like to go back through the human, spiritual, ethical, and civil experience that the encyclical urges us.
On the evening of March 27, 2020, during the peak of the coronavirus deaths, Pope Francis, alone at St. Peter's Square, under a dark sky, full of water, squeezed between the miraculous Crucifix of St. Marcellus of Corso and Our Lady Salus Populi Romani reminded us, globally, that we are all in the same boat; we are one big human family looking for a new balance to inhabit the earth that hosts us responsibly. We all seek together with a sustainable development that contrasts the "culture of waste."
The adventure, therefore, is even more stimulating precisely in times of coronavirus. The pandemic shows us once again how powerful were the words of the Pope who already five years ago highlighted the risk of globalizing indifference and the strong interconnection between the natural environment and the survival of the inhabitants and at the same time offered an antidote in the reference, or rather in the conversion to the "Creator who can say to each of us: "Before forming you in the womb, I knew you" (Jer 1:5)". (LS 65).
'Every coin always has two sides. Some of its expressions have won formidable attention, becoming real paradigms for reflection and comparison: "integral ecology" (to which the entire chapter IV is dedicated), "everything is connected" (LS 117 & 138), "there are not two separate crises, one environmental and another social, but a single and complex social-environmental crisis" (LS 139). Unfortunately, it ended up in journalistic fashion slogans, with the risk of trivializing their very meaning. Even an encyclical can remain a victim of the culture of the disposable and sensationalism.
It is well known that every encyclical was not created to embellish libraries. In fact, through interdisciplinary hermeneutics - LS itself suggests the interdisciplinary methodology of knowledge and knowledge to be combined with the practice of discernment - should be translated into constructive action.
It is not merely a "green" encyclical, as it has often been too quickly robbed, but a message that places the social concern, "of conscience," of the Church at the center.
The biggest challenge to take up, really putting the LS itself into practice, is to analyze reality and act integrally. To better clarify the concept of an integral approach, it is good to ask practical questions. According to the logic that structures LS, will a pro-life team be able, perhaps, to disinterest in ecology? Whoever fights against the trafficking of animals at risk of extinction will be able to disregard the poor, the trafficking of people, the destruction of a human being, abortion? Who practices the criterion of reality, which implies accepting one's existence as a gift from God, can do without appreciating one's body in its femininity or masculinity to be able to recognize oneself in the encounter with the other who is different from oneself? Can those who promote the family, based on marriage between man and woman, remain indifferent to questions concerning the functioning of neighborhood communities, the city, democracy? Will those who are Christian and militant for integral ecology be able to ignore the importance of celebration, prayer, and Christian spirituality?
Knowledge of LS makes it easier, but not simpler to answer questions because everything is connected to it. For LS, there can be no serious and convinced concern for the environment without sincere love for human beings and a constant commitment to the problems of society.
In this luster, the encyclical has received great 'secular' recognition: first at the Universal Food Expo in Milan, in June 2015, but also during the 21st Conference in Paris on climate change (30 November-11 December 2015).
But, in these five years, we can above all say that the Church itself has grown together with the LS.
LS has stimulated the birth of ecclesial initiatives for the protection of the environment on a regional or national level, or the creation of places and programs to experience integral ecology. It has inspired proposals for finance attentive to energy transition and initiatives of spirituality, such as the annual Time of Creation (September 1 - October 4). It has innovated the cornerstones of religious piety, since the care of the common house has been included among the works of mercy and is the theme of the annual World Day of Prayer on September 1.
The special synod for the Amazon region. Limiting attention to ecclesial processes of global significance, the path of the Special Synod for the Amazon region stands out. It has a direct link with the LS, evident from the subtitle "New Paths for the Church and Integral Ecology." Its fruit, in the formulation given in the post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia (QA), is four dreams - social, cultural, ecological and ecclesial - that trace a path of concretization of integral ecology capable of questioning the whole world: "in this historical moment, the Amazon challenges us to overcome limited perspectives, pragmatic solutions that remain closed in partial aspects of the great questions, to seek broader and more courageous ways." (QA, 105).
The youth synod. The encyclical had given space to the concern for intergenerational justice and the risk that the current pace of consumption threatens the opportunities of future generations, as well as recognizing the ecological sensitivity of young people, the commitment of some of them, and the demand for change that they are carrying. (cfr ad es. LS, 13 & 209).
Just as the LS begins with contemplation of the beauty of creation and the cry of the earth and the poor for the evils they suffer, so the Church's concern for the young is born of listening to the questions they ask her, and sometimes of their real cry. If the encyclical proposes care as the basic attitude to be taken towards the common home, caring for each young person is the intention at the basis of the synodal process, which takes the form of accompaniment as an action of the ecclesial community.
The Document on Human Brotherhood. Dialogue is the link that most links the LS to the process that led to the drafting of the Document on Human Brotherhood for World Peace and Common Coexistence, signed on February 4, 2019, in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and Ahmad al-Tayyib, great imam of Al-Azhar, the mosque-university of Cairo. What the encyclical expresses directly in the political sphere, finds here a declination in the inter-religious sphere: "The majority of the inhabitants of the planet declare themselves believers, and this should push religions to enter into a dialogue between them oriented to the care of nature, to the defense of the poor, to the construction of a network of respect and fraternity" (LS, 201). Integral ecology does not fear diversity and pluralism, but enhances its richness, recognizing the imprint of the Creator's project.
Although the Church, in its institutional dimension, has perseveringly continued in these five years to relaunch the link between LS and all the other ecclesial initiatives, it must be said, however, that LS has been less valued in its overall impact, especially concerning integral ecology, of which it is the promoter, and to its method of discernment. LS cannot be reduced only to the individual points dealt with, such as climate, food, water, and the circular economy, even if they are essential.
I would like to present, without claiming to be exhaustive, some aspects of pregnant themes, which I believe have not been adequately understood, but above all have not been pervasively applied in the lives of all men of goodwill and which identify the twofold cause of their unspecified realization: a) a glance towards the HIGH (dimension of TRANSPARENCY: from I to GOD), supported, unfortunately, by b) a cynical glance towards the INNER (dimension of INTERIORITY: from MY TO OURSELF).
Fecundity of the method of discernment, as far as ecological justice is concerned
Faced with the serious problem of the ecological crisis, involving a question of justice not only about the fate of the planet, the rights of future generations, the "cry of the poor" but also concerning the future of the whole of humanity - connected with that of the environment - and in the face of a striking lack of thought and adequate culture, Pope Francis intends to offer a method of discernment, articulated according to the moments of seeing, judging, acting and celebrating. In this way, he makes available interpretative categories that are capable of establishing a more relevant anthropological and ethical evaluation.
It highlights first of all that human fulfillment in God, especially today, implies an integral ecology, thus underlining that in every person, there is a vocation (LS 217). Each person is called to growth, inevitably characterized by an integral, sustainable, inclusive human development. In LS, as a consequence, the first moral principle, that is, human fulfillment is put in ecological terms. This is not a plus of ethical, social, economic, and cultural commitments extrinsic to our moral being, to human fullness in Christ. Human beings are marked and intimately structured by a vocation to the care and custody of creation, beyond despotic anthropocentrism. They have been conceived by God and redeemed by Christ, called in Him to participate in the generation of "new heavens and a new earth," overcoming the destructive attacks underway, managing creation not as absolute masters but as wise stewards. Persons and peoples achieve their human fulfillment also through the care of the common home, collaborating to ensure that creation achieves the end for which it was set up: for humanity, certainly, but above all for the glory of God.
Again thanks to the method of discernment, outlined in the LS, Pope Francis qualifies the specificity of the contribution of believers in the solution to the ecological crisis by virtue of the convictions of their faith (LS 62ff) and, with this, highlights the theological, anthropological and ethical bases of the demands of justice implied therein. Believers have high motives, more than merely human, which lead them to seek hermeneutical and critical tools capable of providing relevant and effective solutions.
The non-recognition of man's surplus - as happens, for example, in the theories that disperse him in the biotic community - makes all moral discourse impossible, especially concerning the relationships of justice, which are involved in the relationship between God, creation, and person. If the anthropological and ethical parameters of the relationship with the environment were lost, absorbing the person into a vitalistic whole, it would be impossible to speak of ecological ethics and, consequently, of environmental ethics in terms of justice. This, according to Francis, finds its justification and conjugation foundations in the primacy of human ecology over environmental ecology (LS 155), as well as in the first moral principle, in the ecological field, which is integral ecology itself.
Justice cannot be concretely achieved without being articulated with the common good in mind, seen and thought out in close connection with the first moral principle of integral ecology. This postulates an analysis, a judgment, planning, in view of integral solutions. Put differently, environmental problems must be considered inseparably both by human, family, work, urban and rural contexts, by the common good of the human family, and by justice between generations. It is not possible to achieve an integral ecology without the common good, and vice versa. In other words, it is not possible to pursue integral ecology without intergenerational solidarity, the promotion, and protection of social ethics, institutions, and laws, which can primarily promote human ecology.
Multiple levels of justice
It is clear from the analysis of the guidelines and actions offered by the LS that, concerning the solution of the ecological crisis, there are more levels of justice, and that more than one level of justice is involved: supranational, national and local.
Such a framework urges believers and people of goodwill to engage in permanent dialogue and to commit themselves to several action plans. In this respect, one cannot fail to note the multiple responsibilities that affect all actors, not excluding religious communities and their various educational settings. Despite numerous commendable initiatives, much remains to be done. Perhaps it may seem naive, in a context in which there is still a lack of sufficient commitment at the grassroots level, to urge the Catholic Church not to renounce training people, so that they may be present, with competence and with the inspiration that characterizes them, also at the level of multilateral relations.
In the context of international and national policies, what Pope Francis says about legality and justice is of particular importance. (LS 164ss).
To influence decision-making processes, civil society must be able to organize itself into movements that cultivate new lifestyles, which bring together consumers in the promotion of collective goods through "portfolio choices." We must not lose hope in the effectiveness of small everyday gestures. It is necessary to invest in a great educational work (LS 209ff) because it is not possible to live legality without a good life. Ecological education is based on an adequate critical sense of the idols of technocracy and financial capitalism. In particular, a Christian ecological spirituality, capable of offering high and permanent motivation for constructive action, is urgently needed.
Discernment and "celebrating": the realism of integral ecology
The method of discernment, proposed by Pope Francis, also includes the moment of celebration (LS 233ff). Such a moment, indicated in the last sentence, is not, however, to be considered marginal. In reality, in the body of the encyclical, such a moment is central and, in a certain way, original, structuring the other moments because of the emergence and importance of the more specific and innovative aspects of the whole discourse on integral ecology depends on it.
In the life of the believer, the moment of celebration is not only the point of arrival of life but also the point of departure. Ultimately, the originality of LS erupts from the Christian experience of receiving, celebrating, and witnessing the mystery of the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who assumes humanity and the universe to transfigure them with his love, to make them a "new creation." It is from participation in the mystery of the recapitulation of all things in Christ that the realist hermeneutics of the relationship between God, cosmos, and person, ecological conversion, universal fraternity, the primacy of human ecology over environmental ecology, the global truth of integral ecology, the poignancy of a transcendent humanism, prejudicial to the overcoming of the paradigm of technocracy and the idolatry of money, as well as of a consumerist and rapacious development, are strengthened.
For the Christian experience, all creatures find their true meaning in the Incarnate Word. The Son of God, by becoming a man in everything similar to us, has incorporated into his person part of the material universe and has introduced into it a seed of definitive transformation. In the Eucharistic Bread, creation is directed towards its divinization, towards unification with the Creator himself. Participation in the Eucharist makes it possible to heal the relationship of human beings with God, with themselves, with every other 'you,' with the whole of creation (LS 236). With the celebration of the Eucharist - the new Covenant - the Trinitarian imprint scattered throughout the universe ('semina Verbi') with the creation and disfigured by sin is restored and strengthened.
Corresponding to our vocation to the care and development of creation, therefore, we must consider ourselves missionaries of integral ecology (LS 3). It is not enough to take an interest in the climate, drinking water, renewable energies, the circular economy, or anything else separately from the rest, to call ourselves ecologists according to the spirit of LS. One would risk reductionism, sectorialism, losing sight of a global vision.
We must act and educate integrally in the light of equally integral ecology. Only in this way can the important encyclical of Pope Francis be fully appreciated and brought to life.