2015-06-18 17:46:00

Encyclical's launch highlights science, theology, business

The eagerly-awaited papal encyclical entitled ‘Laudato Si’: on the care of our common home’ was presented at a press conference on Thursday morning in the Vatican’s synod hall, which was packed with journalists, diplomats and religious leaders. The 192 page document, published in eight languages, was introduced by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Justice and Peace council, together with a leading Orthodox theologian, an acclaimed German climate scientist, an American businesswoman and an Italian school teacher.

Philippa Hitchen tells us more about this unprecedented event:


Pope Francis’ first encyclical focuses on the idea of ‘integral ecology’, connecting care of the natural world with justice for the poorest and most vulnerable people. Only by radically reshaping our relationships with God, with our neighbours and with the natural world, he says, can we hope to tackle the threats facing our planet today. Science, he insists, is the best tool by which we can listen to the cry of the earth, while dialogue and education are the two keys that can “help us to escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us”.

If that seems like strong language, Professor John Schellnhuber, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, used a power point presentation to show just how just how urgent the environmental crisis has become. His charts and diagrams showed how dramatically the use of fossil fuels over the past century has damaged the fragile equilibrium of the planet, leading to rising temperatures and threatening the existence of people in the poorest parts of our world. Global warming of just a few degrees may not sound like much, he said, but just compare it to a rise in your own body temperature…..

“You all have a body temperature of slightly below 37°C….add 2°, and you get a fever, add 5° and you will be dead…this is how climate change operates on the earth’s system…”

We are already crossing “planetary guardrails” Professor Schellnhuber said, adding that the problem is not over-population in the poorest countries, but over-consumption by the few richest people who own most of the world’s wealth.

Also welcoming the new encyclical was Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, who noted the Ecumenical Patriarchate was the first to highlight the seriousness of the ecological crisis with its own encyclical back in 1989. Neither Catholic, nor Orthodox, nor Protestant theology manuals traditionally had much time for ecology, he said, yet our scriptures tell us that God became man to save not just humanity, but the whole of Creation. We must recognize and repent of our ecological sins, he urged, stressing that this is the major task facing all the divided Christian Churches today:“I believe the significance of the papal encyclical is not limited to the subject of ecology…

“I see in the papal encyclical…….an important ecumenical dimension…..in that it brings divided Christians before a common task that they must face together”

Reacting to some of the criticism levelled at the encyclical, even before its publication, Dr Carolyn Woo, head of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Business School at Notre Dame University, said big business must recognize its potential to become part of the solution and not part of the ecological problem….

“We can clearly see that the Pope’s message is based on solid science….. for business which is so big on analytics, it’s important to open our minds and our hearts…..we cannot dismiss this just because we don’t like the message of this evidence”

At the heart of the Pope’s reflections in the new document is the question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to our children” and those who come after us? Politicians, business people, church leaders and individuals now have an important tool to help answer that question and respond to the pressing challenges facing our common home.

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