The much- awaited encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment was finally released on June 18, at a press conference here in the Vatican. Entitled, “‘Laudato Si’ - On the Care of Our Common Home”, the 190-page encyclical connects the care of the natural world with justice for the poorest and most vulnerable people, and argues that only by radically reshaping our relationships with God, with our neighbours and with the natural world, can we hope to avoid the threat of self-destruction facing our planet today. The title of the encyclical “Laudato Si” is a phrase taken from the 13th-century Canticle of the Sun (also called the Canticle of the Creatures), a poem and prayer on the created world composed by Francis of Assisi, the popular 13th century Italian saint known for his humility, poverty and love for nature. On his election as Pope in 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, in tune with his pastoral outlook and concern, assumed the name of Francis.
Well, to know more about the encyclical, we called on the phone Indian Jesuit priest Fr. Cedric Prakash, a well-known human rights and peace activist, who heads the human rights centre in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, called Prashant. Last week, in the first part of this interview, Fr. Cedric began his analysis of “Laudato Si” saying that it is path-breaking and timely, and there is much more to it than just being ‘green’ or ‘environmental. The Pope speaks about human rights and the quality of human life, Fr. Cedric said, adding, the encyclical is the continuation of his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” or the ‘”Gospel of Joy”. The bottom line of the encyclical, “Laudato Si”, the Jesuit rights activist pointed out is the Pope’s challenge in paragraph 160, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
Talking about some critics who are urging Pope Francis to leave science to scientists and not mix it up with faith, Fr. Cedric noted that the Pope is a chemist by profession, but in the encyclical he is speaking not as a scientist but as a pastor. ‘Laudato Si’ is not a scientific treatise but a pastoral message, expressing the pontiff’s concern for man’s common home that is being destroyed. What the Pope is doing, Fr. Cedric said, is what Christ did – standing for the poor and the marginalized who are facing the brunt of environmental degradation. Jesus’s preaching and parables are strewn with examples and analogies from nature. It is no wonder that the Bible begins with creation in the Book of Genesis. The Pope in his encyclical is hitting out at the rich and their selfishness and greed for the earth’s resources that are largely responsible for environmental degradation and climate change. Hence the Pope is inviting, not just Catholics or Christians but the entire human race, including those of other faiths as well as atheists and people of good will, to act now and save the world before it is too late.
Fr. Cedric Prakash also noted that in the several encyclicals on the Church’s social teaching, the Popes’ teaching have been based on the Gospel, but the starting points or platforms have been different, and the platform of Pope Francis in “Laudato Si” is the earth – out common home. Which is why one of the common catch phrases of Pope Francis has been ‘the common good’ against selfishness, greed, speculation and hoarding. Hence the call of “Laudato Si” transcends all divisions and crosses all boundaries, which is why Pope Francis had wanted a scientist who is a professed atheist, to be among those to release his encyclical.
Well today, in the final part of this interview, Fr. Cedric Prakash explains that the concern of Pope Francis for the created world is not something new or sudden, but that it has been part of his pastoral outreach, proof of which is evident even in the first days of his pontificate.
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