(Source: Leonardo Boff, Brazilian ecotheologian; unofficial translation: Novena)

A blind person perceives with their hands or with their cane the most relevant things that they find in their path. Well, we are going to try to undertake a blind person’s reading of the ecological encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: on the care of the Common Home, whose five year anniversary we have just celebrated. What are its main points?

To begin with, it is not a ‘green’ encyclical that is restricted to the environment, the predominant issue in current debates.

It proposes an integral ecology that embraces the environmental, the social, the political, the cultural, the everyday and the spiritual.

It seeks to be a response to the generalised global ecological crisis because “never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years” (n. 53). We have made the Common Home “an immense pile of filth” (n. 21). Furthermore: “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain… our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes” (n. 161). The demand is for a “global ecological conversion” (nn. 5; 216) which involves “new lifestyles” (the Pope repeats that 35 times) and “change [to] models of global development” (n. 194).

We have reached this critical emergency because of our exacerbated anthropocentrism, whereby the human being “behaves with absolute dominion” (n. 117) over nature and is torn from it, forgetting that “everything is interrelated” and that man cannot “declare… independence from reality” (nn. 117; 120).

Man has used technology and science as an instrument to forge an “infinite or unlimited growth… based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit” (n. 106).

In the theoretical part, the encyclical incorporates a fact from the new cosmology and quantum physics: that everything in the universe is in relationship. As in a ritornello it insists that “we are all interdependent, everything is interconnected and everything is related to everything” (cf. nn. 16, 86, 117, 120), which gives the text great coherence.

Another category that constitutes a true paradigm is that of care. This is in fact the true title of the encyclical. Care, because it is the essence of life and of the human being, according to the Roman fable of Hyginus, so well studied by Martin Heidegger in Being and Time, is recurrent throughout the text of the encyclical. [The Pope] sees in St. Francis “the example par excellence of care” (n. 10). “The heart of what it is to be human… to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists” (n. 11).

It is interesting to note that Pope Francis unites intellectual intelligence, supported by the data of science, to the intelligence of the senses and of the heart. We must read the numbers with emotion and relate to nature with “awe and wonder” (n.11)… “see and appreciate beauty [because it helps us] to reject self-interested pragmatism” (n. 215). It is important “to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (n. 49).

Let us consider this text, charged with emotional intelligence:

“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth” (n. 92).

It is important “to encourage a ‘culture of care’ which permeates all of society” (n. 231), since in this way “we can speak of a ‘universal fraternity’ (n. 228).

Finally, spirituality is essential to integral ecology. It is not a question of deriving it from ideas, but from the motivations that give rise to a spirituality that nourishes “a more passionate concern for the protection of our world. A commitment this lofty cannot be sustained by doctrine alone, without a spirituality capable of inspiring us, without an “interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity” (n. 216). Here again he evokes the cosmic spirituality of St. Francis (n. 218).

In conclusion, it is important to emphasise that with this encyclical, broad and detailed, Pope Francis places himself, as has been recognised by notable ecologists, at the cutting edge of world ecological discussion.

In many interviews he has referred to the dangers that our Common Home faces, but his message is one of hope: “Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope” (n. 244).

More on Novena on Laudato si’:

Pope laments on World Environment Day: “The wounds inflicted on our Mother Earth are wounds that also bleed in us”

Pope ‘updates’ Laudato si’ five years on: “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of Creation”

Cardinal Turkson explains Laudato si’: “Creation is kin for Christians, to be kept like we keep a brother or sister”

Cardinal Czerny: “Laudato si’ was an extraordinary wake-up call, and COVID-19 is the same alarm that rings with force and urgency”

“Solidarity to create a new world”: Vatican invites planet to 7-year Laudato si’ “action platform”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.