Beyond Laudato Si

Wall Art from Bottlecaps, Universidad de Los Lagos, Puerto Montt, Chile (2019)

Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness. The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. (Pope Francis, Laudato Sí no. 53, 2015)

The Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) was established in 2015 as a combination of two transformative events that would shape how the Church and humanity responded to the ecological crisis: the Laudato Si’ encyclical release and the Paris Climate Agreement. (https://catholicclimatemovement.global) The GCCM website describes this confluence of events in this way:

First, Pope Francis wrote and released the encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, the first-ever papal encyclical devoted to the crisis of our planetary home. Inspired by his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi and his deep communion with all Creation (best captured in the Canticle of the Creatures that inspired the encyclical’s title), the Pope issued a powerful appeal to the Church and “all people of good will” to urgently come together and respond to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Second, with the backdrop of increasingly starker warnings from the scientific community about the severity of the climate emergency, leaders from nearly 200 nations gathered at the U.N. Paris Climate Summit (COP21) to agree and sign the Paris Agreement. After 21 years of failed negotiations, nations of the world had a deadline to finally agree on a common plan that would tackle the climate crisis before it was too late.

When Pope Francis published Laudato Sí, he pointed to the failure of global summits on the environment to commit to policies and actions that would address climate change on a global scale. Special interest groups and economic interests took precedence over the common good. “Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.” (LS, no. 54) According to Pope Francis, we human beings try not to see problems, try not to acknowledge them, and we delay important decisions, pretending that nothing will happen. (LS, no. 41)

Mark Graham, associate professor of theological ethics at Villanova University, believes that Laudato Sí was not enough to effect real change in the climate crisis. Graham believes that every international report on greenhouse gas emissions since then has been dismal. “The world needs bold leadership and an unleashing of creative forces to undertake the most widespread and effective mitigation efforts possible.” (“Laudato Sí Was Not Enough. The Vatican Needs to Prioritize Climate Change,” America Media, May 18, 2020)

The news was even more dismal when the United States declared on November 4, 2020 that it would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. My hope was restored when on Inauguration Day 2021, President Biden issued an executive order for the United States to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. The stakes of climate degradation are even higher than in 2015, but I believe that we are once again ready to take up the challenges that lie ahead.


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