The Essential Message of Laudato Si’ – Cardinal Peter Turkson – Message to Bishops Worldwide, from Portugal in February 2016

The Essential Message of Laudato Si’ shared by Cardinal Turkson: Message to Bishops Worldwide, from Portugal in February 2016.  Feel free to print and use the google doc (2 pages double-sided) at your parish: 

  • Everyone must act responsibly to save our world!
  • All human beings are affected, & everything in nature, by the crises of climate change, misuse of natural resources, waste & pollutionpoverty & dislocation.
  • Everything is interconnected; we cannot understand the social or natural world or their parts in isolation.
  • We must be truthful; let no one hide or distort facts in order to gain selfish advantage.
  • We must engage in honest, transparent, constructive dialogue based on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, working for the common good, universal destination of goods, and preferential option for the poor and for the earth.  Particular interests must not hijack the negotiations. We must transcend ourselves in solidarity.

The way we interact with the natural world is deeply related to how we interact with our fellow human beings. In fact, there is no valid way to separate these two aspects.   All decisions about the natural environment are ethical decisions, just as social options have environmental consequences. This is inescapable, and it has important implications.  Businesses (et al.) must be held to transcendent anthropological and moral norms. They must be oriented toward the common good, in full human solidarity—both with everyone alive today and with people not yet born.

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (§139).  Pope Francis gives the earth a voice.   He asks us to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, and to respond in an integrated manner.  Laudato Si’ has some new elements:

  • Laudato si’takes full cognizance of contemporary science—this has not typified Church discourse in the past.  And it deals with economics, business, and governance.
  • The Encyclical speaks extensively of the natural world —until now a modest theme.
  • It speaks resoundingly and most urgently about the human condition, from children and families, to the marginalized and desperately poor and imminently endangered, to those lost in consumerism and self-indulgent diversions—with almost brutal realism as “Realities are more important than ideas.”(Evangelii Gaudium 231-33. LS, §110, §201)
  • The Pope advocates care, going further than “stewardship”, taking responsibility, and fulfilling obligations, to manage and to render an account. To care is to allow oneself to be affected by another, so much so that one’s path and priorities change.  If one cares, one is connected.  Good parents know this. 

By bringing these perspectives together with their impact on concrete human experience, Laudato si’ wishes to persuade the world that the moral dimension is paramount and must be omnipresent.   There is no morally neutral decision about business and market policies or about the use of technologies in resource extraction. All decisions affect both the natural world which is our common home, and all of us inhabitants of that common home.  All this signals a fresh, novel and challenging engagement within the Church and of the Church with the world.

Read and apply the encyclical yourself, and give leadership and support to applying it in your own region!  Each of you must have ideas about this. Where you exercise responsibility, which charism is most needed? Is it to promote the realization that we are one human family, and each and every person has full human dignity? Is it to fight against slavery, forced migration, violence against children and women? Is it to ensure that business activity contributes to good living for all—to integral human development?

The Church offers spiritual resources to lead the People of God and to inspire all people of the world in attitudes of wonder, awe, gratitude, compassion and solidarity.  As Pope Benedict XVI says, “In nature, we recognize the wonderful result of God’s creative activity… The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility…”  We ought to abhor the “reckless exploitation” of the air, water or land or needless disruption of the natural world.(Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, §48)

Pope Francis emphasizes the need for transformation. Consumerism and frantic pursuit of economic success reinforce the conditions for environmental and social degadation. Human beings need to take a new path. The Holy Father’s words echo a beautiful passage in the earlier Common Declaration on Environmental Ethics of St John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Bartholomew:  What is required is an act of repentance on our part and a renewed attempt to view ourselves, one another, and the world around us (with) the most radical…change of heart, which can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. A genuine conversion will enable us to change the way we think and act. (John Paul II and Bartholomew I, Common Declaration on Environmental Ethics, 10.6.2002.)  Caring for our common home requires, as Pope Francis says, not just an economic and technological revolution, but also a cultural and spiritual revolution—a profoundly different way of approaching the relationship between people and the environment, a new way of ordering the global economy.

How the Riches of our Catholic Social Teaching Underpin Laudato Si’

Cardinal Peter Turkson shows how Laudato Si’ relates to important principles of Catholic social teaching—the common good, human dignity, justice, solidarity, subsidiarity and sustainability. All these come together in an integral ecology “which clearly respects its human and social dimensions”. This is necessary because “everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis” (§137). 

As Bishops, we occupy a privileged position. No facet of our world is too great or too small, too lofty or too plain, for us to take it on, to pray over it, and to bring it into constructive dialogue with others. We can promote this integration and encourage “profound interior conversion” (§217) in every aspect of our mission. For the challenge is of a new order. Humanity did not descend into the crises of today by doing our worst (crime, violence, war) but – with great enthusiasm for science, technology, progress and prosperity – while doing our very best.

  • The world’s economy must meet the true needs of people for their survival and integral human flourishing. This is a matter of human dignity and of the common good. We must make objective moral judgments in this regard: “Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending… When people become self-centered and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume.” (§ 203,204)
  • Technologies (and arguably approaches, ways, and systems) need to be assessed for their contribution to the common good. The encyclical notes the tremendous contribution of technologies to the improvement of living conditions, while also warning about the misuse of technology, especially when it gives “those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world” (§104). Markets alone “cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” (§109).
  • Solidarity with all, especially the marginalized and the pooris a hallmark of our Holy Father’s papacy and it marks the Encyclical too. It speaks with great compassion of dispossession and devastation suffered disproportionately by the poor, because of where they live and due to the lack of power to escape or to protect themselves. Pope Francis embraces all  “Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting” (§162).
  • Solidarity must also apply between generations“we can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity” (§159). The Pope’s key question for humanity is put in those very terms: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (§160).
  • Human dignity underpins the need to protect employment”(§124-29). Work is a noble and necessary vocation: “a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment”(§128). Work is how human dignity unfolds, supporting our families and others, working for the common good, and accessing the basic material conditions needed for flourishing every day.  Our work should be the setting for rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others. Thus Pope Benedict said in Caritas in Veritate, 32: it is essential that “we con­tinue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone,” no matter the limited interests of business and economic reasoning that excludes the human and social costs. (§127) It is wrong when some businesses replace workers with machines on the basis of efficiency and utility, viewing human beings as interchangeable with machines as mere factors of production. Clearly, the obsession is to gain still more profit, but at the cost of less and less decent work. Does society benefit from unemployment or do individuals thrive from being unemployed or precariously hired? No. Everywhere far too many people cannot find worthwhile and fulfilling work. We should not be surprised when unscrupulous people with demented fantasies recruit such idle individuals into criminality and violence.
  • God has exercised subsidiarity by entrusting the earth to humans to keep, till and care for it; this makes human beings co-creators with God. Work should be inspired by the same attitude. If work is organized properly and if workers are given proper resources and training, their activity can contribute to their fulfilment as human beings, not just meet their material needs. It can uphold the full human dignity, the integral human development, of workers. The principle of subsidiarity, a mirror of God’s relationship to humanity, requires restraint and an acceptance of the humble role of a servant leader.
  • Proper practices of stewardship result in sustainability of the natural environment and of human systems. The problem is that the logic of competition promotes short-termism, which leads to financial failure and environmental devastation. “We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals” (§190).
  • The Holy Father is not anti-business, as his messages to the World Economic Forum clearly attest. What he decries is an obsession with profit and the deification of the market. Profit has its role in sustaining an enterprise and allowing it to improve and innovate; but we need sustainability.  Pope Francis calls upon business to lead by harnessing its creativity to solve pressing human needs, with more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment. (§191).
  • God is the Creator of all—the entirety of creation, all people, the gift of all goods to all of humanity. Justice requires that the goods of creation be distributed fairly to all of humanity. This has the status of a moral obligation, even a commandment, for Pope Francis. “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy, it is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property. Property, especially when it affects natural resources, must always serve the needs of Peoples.” (Pope Francis, Address to the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, 9.7.2015, § 3.1)
  • Justice must also reign over the distribution of the burden of environmental rehabilitation. Those who have contributed most to greenhouse gas emissions and have benefited most from the industrial period, should now take the lead and contribute more to the solution than those whose standard of living is just beginning to rise. As a first step, they and we must be ever more honest about externalities or spillover effectssince finally nothing falls outside of the accounts of our one shared common household.


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