Bob McKeon


July 13, 2015

On June 18, Pope Francis' long awaited encyclical Laudato Si' was released. The buildup and public anticipation preceding the actual publication was unprecedented. The release date was advertised ahead of time. There was even the intrigue over the early publication of a leaked text.

U.S. presidential candidates debated its message before they had even read it. All this excitement helped Pope Francis achieve his ambitious goal of reaching "every living person living on this planet" with his message.

While he brings a Christian theological perspective clearly rooted in Catholic social teaching, the text is accessible and understandable to a much larger audience. Significantly, he concludes with two prayers, one which can be shared with all "who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator," and the second for explicit Christian believers.

While many have called this the "climate change" encyclical, it by no means has a single-issue focus.

The subtitle of the encyclical is On Care for Our Common Home. This is an apt image. To care for my home, involves financial concerns, physical structures, environmental issues, family relationship dynamics, compliance with public regulations and much more.

To speak of our life together on this planet, as "caring for our common home" will necessarily address economic, environmental, political, cultural and spiritual concerns. Pope Francis does this in a comprehensive way.

For Pope Francis, everything is inter-connected and multi-faceted. He uses words like "integral ecology" and "ecological justice." There can be no meaningful resolution to the ecological crisis without social and economic justice, especially for those who are poor. Similarly, there can be no continuing social justice without dealing with pressing ecological concerns.

Pope Francis clearly, by the timing of this encyclical, wants to address world leaders coming together to discuss the big issues of global climate change and its escalating human cost. He agrees with the scientific consensus that climate change is real and to a large extent caused by human produced greenhouse gas emissions.


He speaks of inadequate leadership and weak political responses at global summits where "too many economic interests easily end up trumping the common good, and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected."

He will speak at the UN in September about international Sustainable Development Goals, and add his voice to the international Climate Change Summit taking place in Paris in November.

He goes further to speak of an urgent need to develop policies in the next few years so that the emission of greenhouse gases can be drastically reduced, for example, by "substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy."

Pope Francis also addresses individuals at the personal level in their lifestyle choices saying "there is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions." He gives examples such as "avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse . . . turning off unnecessary lights or any number of other practices." Consumers should take environmental concerns into account in their purchasing decisions.

Another theme is environmental education where all Christian communities are seen as having an important role to play. Seminaries and religious formation houses receive a special mention. He also speaks of an ecological conversion.


Many people living unbalanced lives of frenetic activity wind up doing harm to people close to them and to the environment. Pope Francis calls for an "integral ecology" that includes "taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us."

Maybe some of us can take the opportunity this summer to embark on this form of spiritual reflection.

I want to suggest Laudato Si' as a summer reading project, even for those who do not make a habit of reading 180-page papal documents. Pope Francis writes in the first person, "I." Read it as a personal letter addressed to you.

It can be read a few pages at a time. Then take time to talk about it with anyone who is open to such a conversation. Pope Francis says that "in this encyclical, I would like to enter in dialogue with all people about our common home." Maybe you and I can take it upon ourselves to help make this happen.

(Bob McKeon: