COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

Caring for our common home

On May 24, the “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home” came available. It stirred controversy, especially as it gave solace to those wishing to limit excessive releases of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in order to avoid further grave harm to our common home.

Practically speaking, it’s a footnoted book! The encyclical letter’s six chapters comprise 184 pages, with each paragraph individually numbered reminiscent of a legal brief intended for citation. Chapter 1 is entitled “What Is Happening to our Common Home” [17-61], Chapter 2 is “The Gospel of Creation” [62-100], Chapter 3 is “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis” [101-136], Chapter 4 is “Integral Ecology” [137-162], Chapter 5 is “Lines of Approach and Action” [163-201], and Chapter 6 is “Ecological Education and Spirituality” [202-246].

Available online from the Vatican, it offers a wide range of reflection, including, “It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.”

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.”

Refreshingly direct, it contains soaring principles and common sense. For example, in Paragraph 188, the encyclical letter states: “There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”

One core message calls upon us to put aside our fear and engrained bias to engage the grand questions that face us. This is especially valuable when the consequences of misunderstanding or fatuous thinking are capable of unleashing titanic and enduring destructive forces, as is the case with the greenhouse effect, driven as it is by the sun’s awesome power and our collective, excessive contributions to the atmosphere’s various greenhouse gases.

While an aside, it’s worth noting that Pope Francis studied chemistry in Argentina, thus providing him with insights into scientific thought and principles, thereby enabling him to appreciate the underlying capabilities of otherwise subtle physical phenomena. The greenhouse effect is quite simple as scientific principles go, but a proper education lays the foundation for embracing its true power and capacity for destruction.

Some have incorrectly reported that Pope Francis holds a master’s degree in chemistry. As explained in a June 3 National Catholic Reporter article by Thomas Reese, “Does Pope Francis have a master's degree in chemistry?” it is disclosed that he studied chemistry and holds a degree.

Equating educational levels and degrees from various nations is complicated, a bit like finding equivalency in currency trading. Suffice it to say Pope Francis grasps what is necessary.

Reflecting this perspective, Paragraph 138 observes: “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.”

Pope Francis says “we urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge … in the service of a more integral and integrating vision.”

Pope Francis’ encyclical letter ends with two prayers, “A prayer for our Earth” and “A Christian prayer in union with creation.” The second prayer closes with these words:

“God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live. The poor and the earth are crying out. O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life, to prepare for a better future, for the coming of your Kingdom of justice, peace, love and beauty. Praise be to you! Amen.”

Read it for yourself, for your children.


Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com.

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