by MARY BETZ
Laudato Si’ is a remarkable synthesis of science, theology, ethics, spirituality and poetry.
The words of Pope Francis are both bold and gentle: He calls for “changes of lifestyle, production and consumption” and a rejection of our “throwaway culture” to fight climate change and other causes of environmental degradation. He calls for firm political action to control carbon emissions, and radical changes in our business and economic systemsto value creation for itself, not as a resource to be exploited for profit. Yet he calls us gently back to the love of God and an imitation of the life of Jesus, to simplicity and contemplation, to our own deepest yearnings rather than superficial attempts to fill deep needs with consumer goods.
Drawing on the thoughts of his immediate predecessors, the writings of bishops’ conferences throughout the world, wisdom from the Scriptures, theology and spirituality, and his own observations and reflection, Pope Francis addresses “every person living on this planet”. He draws the attention of our hearts and minds to the Earth — “burdened and laid waste”, and “among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor”.
Threaded through the document are the connectedness and interdependence of all of life, and the need to bring wisdom from social, political, economic, environmental, spiritual and personal spheres together to find solutions to our present ecological crisis. Above all, Pope Francis calls
for changes in our hearts, spirituality, attitudes and lifestyles to create communities that love and care instead of irresponsibly consuming and causing the destruction of our Earth.
Pope Francis understands that the same disordered understandings within us that lead to violence and lack of care for the poor and vulnerable also lead us to disrespect the Earth. We must “hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”.
He links relentless consumption in the global north with environmental devastation and poverty in the global south. In two centuries of industrial development, the global north has grown materially wealthy at the expense of the poor and future generations, and caused the climatic
imbalances that are now threatening the whole Earth.
Pope Francis asks us to recognise the present ecological crisis as a sign of the wider ethical and spiritual crisis in our world. He challenges us to assess the ethics and impact of every action and personal decision on the world around us, and invites us to fill ourselves; not with endless consumer purchases, but with relationships with God, others and our Earth.
The author of this opinion piece, Mary Betz, is an ecologist, theologian and member of the Auckland Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission.