A few weeks ago a group of friends of the Mill Hill missionaries in Holland met with missionaries resident in Oosterbeek for the first of two gatherings planned for 2018. Prof Fred van Iersel led the assembled participants in a reflection on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’.
One of the participants, John Jorna, wrote this report:
During the twice yearly ‘Ontmoetingsdag’ – Friends Day – at Mill Hill in Oosterbeek prof. Fred van Iersel spoke about Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. He placed this encyclical within the context of developments of theological thinking during the past three centuries. The eighteenth century saw the independence of the United States followed by the French Revolution. The nineteenth century saw the rise of anti-Christian attitudes in France and Germany, and the Industrial Revolution led to the rise of capitalism and Marxism. Pope Leo XIII responded with the social encyclical Rerum Novarum. During the crisis of the thirties, Quadragesimo Anno appeared. John XXIII wrote Pacem in Terris during the Cold War and Paul VI Populorum progressio. All these encyclicals together show how the Church thinks about human rights. Now Pope Francis has shown how the survival of humanity is threatened by the destruction of our common home, planet Earth. In fact it is the poorest in the world who are the victims, because they lack the ability to escape all dangers. If you cannot afford solar panels, you have to pay higher and higher prices for your energy. With panels you generate your own energy.
All encyclicals together provide the Social Doctrine of the Church. An important notion of this is the ‘bonum commune’ – the common good, which we must watch over carefully. The Church favours good consultation between employers and employees over polarization.
Fred van Iersel subsequently spelt out the structure of Laudato Si’.
In the introduction Pope Francis not only shows what his predecessors have written on the subject, but also quotes the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew as well as quite a few bishops’ conferences. He concludes the introduction with a call to unite to protect our common home. Van Iersel noted that a year before the appearance of the encyclical the oil and coal lobby in the USA had already started a campaign calling into question the Pope’s expertise in matters environmental.
In chapter 1 (See) the Pope identifies the many forms of deterioration of our common home, the world, our common good. He mentions, for example, climate change and the resulting rise in sea level. For good reason the encyclical appeared shortly before the large and fairly successful climate conference in Paris. The Pope points out that the very poor are the first victims. They do not have the technology to protect their low-lying land from rising sea levels. They cannot purify contaminated water resulting in a shortage of clean drinking water. The Pope also mentions the loss of biodiversity.
In chapter 2 (Judge) the Pope begins to formulate an assessment. He says that sometimes the Bible is misunderstood. God has given us the earth to live and thrive, but that does not mean we can deal with it any way we want. We must carefully manage God’s creation. That requires wisdom. All world religions have sources of wisdom. In our Western world we tend to value unlimited freedom. A new environmental ethics is needed. At the same time, there is a special task for science: examining what goes wrong and coming up with solutions. Companies must develop sustainable systems of production. Local politicians are closest to the people and they must work together with them to devise a sustainable way of life. That will never work if people do not fundamentally change their attitudes and way of thinking. The Pope calls for conversion to a sustainable and contemplative lifestyle. The Pope shows himself a prophet. He asks all bishops to cooperate collegially. At the same time it is an appeal to all the earth’s inhabitants. Together we have to save the planet.
As a deeper cause of poverty and environmental degradation, the Pope sees the power of a group of extremely rich people compelling companies to achieve the highest possible profit and therefore low wages and few measures against environmental degradation.
P.S. The time for the lecture was too short to fully do justice to the encyclical.