Five years ago, Pope Francis signed a document which represented a major step forward in the Church’s Social Doctrine and is a road map for building more just societies that are capable of safeguarding human life and all Creation.
Remembering the fifth anniversary of Laudato si’ is far from a commemorative event.
Laudato si’ Week – and the year dedicated to the encyclical – represent a way to promote initiatives, ideas, experiences, and good practices.
These various initiatives help bring out what the document has set in motion in communities throughout the world. They also help us reflect on its relevance in the here-and-now, as the world fights against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everything is connected
One of the merits of the extensive papal text, which starts from the fundamentals of the relationship between creatures and the Creator, is that it has made us understand that everything is connected. There is no environmental issue that can be separated from social issues, climate change, migration, war, poverty, and underdevelopment. These are manifestations of a single crisis which, before being ecological, is, at its heart, an ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis. This is a deeply realistic view.
Laudato Si’ was not born from nostalgia as a means to turn back the clock of history and return us to pre-industrial styles of life. It instead identifies and describes the processes of self-destruction that are triggered by the search for immediate profit, and a divinised form of economy.
The root of the ecological problem, writes Pope Francis, lies precisely in the fact that “a certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.”
Pay attention to reality
To start afresh from concrete reality means coming to terms with the objectivity of the human condition, beginning with the recognition of the limited supply of the earth’s resources.
It means staying away from the blind trust represented by the “technocratic paradigm” which Pope Francis affirms taking the lead from Romano Guardini, “has ended up placing technical thought over reality, since the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility.”
Men and women have always intervened, says the Pope, “but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us” (LS, 106).
For this reason, writes the Pope, “the time has come to pay renewed attention to reality and the limits it imposes; this in turn is the condition for a more sound and fruitful development of individuals and society” (LS 116).
Rethinking the future
The crisis that we are experiencing because of the pandemic has made all this even more evident.
“We have gone ahead at breakneck speed,” said Pope Francis on 27 March during the Extraordinary Urbi et Orbi – “feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet.”
During that intense moment of prayer to invoke an end to the pandemic which has awakened us all to our fragility and helplessness, Pope Francis recalled that we are called “to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing… a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”
Laudato si’ can guide us as we reshape a society where human life, especially that of the weakest, is defended; where everyone has access to healthcare, where people are never discarded, and where nature is not indiscriminately plundered, but cultivated and preserved for those who come after us.
With thanks to Vatican News and Andrea Tornielli, where this article originally appeared.