Earth Day and Laudato Si’ Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Apr. 23, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

A parishioner asked his pastor, "Father, it seems that every time I read a Catholic newspaper, I read about taking care of the environment. Shouldn't we Catholics be more concerned about taking care of the world's bigger problems such as war, hunger, and sickness?"

The priest responded, "Haven't you heard about Laudato Si', Pope Francis' encyclical on ecology? It is the first encyclical in Catholic Church history to focus on ecology and care for creation. In this encyclical, Pope Francis makes a connection between care for the environment and war, hunger, and sickness."

Earth Day

Earth Day also stresses our need to care for the environment. It was founded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. He had witnessed the devastation caused by an enormous oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., which greatly harmed plant and marine life.

He proposed the idea to celebrate the first Earth Day, which was begun in 1970. It was a resounding success. Earth Day occurs on April 22 each year.

Laudato Si'

As leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, perhaps nobody is as influential today in swaying worldwide public opinion on moral issues than Pope Francis. In Laudato Si', he connects lack of care for the environment with problems such as war, hunger, and sickness.

He states that depletion of natural resources displaces people, and their forced migration can create social conflict and poverty. Pope Francis also calls people worldwide to a new environmental consciousness that could reap inestimable benefits to humans and planet earth.

Follows his namesake

In the introductory section of Laudato Si', Pope Francis, following his 13th-century namesake, calls the earth our "common home", which St. Francis says is like our sister and our mother.

When we harm the environment, we harm our relationship with other humans, particularly those least equipped to defend themselves such as the poor and future generations. We are forgetting our interconnectedness with the earth and with those around and ahead of us who depend on our good stewardship.

Pope Francis states that the indifference and harm being done to the environment is not only about polluted land, water, and air, but includes dangerous attitudes toward other human beings and economic practices that hurt people and the land and resources they depend on.

Pope Francis urges the protection of all human life; concrete acts of solidarity with the poor; ethical conduct in economic affairs; greater attention to urban planning that gives all people some contact with nature; and protection of people's cultural heritage

Pope Francis has stated, "I exhort everyone to see the world through the eyes of the Creator: the earth is an environment to be safeguarded, a garden to be cultivated," he said.

In his visit to Madagascar where the destruction of the environment and the suffering of the poor are inextricably bound, Pope Francis urged government officials to promote development projects that protect nature. Pope Francis hopes to add ecological sins against the common home to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

What we can do

The sixth chapter of Laudato Si' entitled "Ecological Education and Spirituality", invites individual believers, families, and communities to make a difference in small tangible ways. Consumer choices, cultivation of ecological virtues such as reducing wastefulness, and environmental education for the young are explained as practical steps leading to a deeper, spiritual "ecological conversion" through which the follower of Christ recognizes the true worth of all created entities.

Thanks to Earth Day, we have taken steps to help sustain and improve the environment. Some individuals and groups have joined the Earth Day network. Others have planted trees, walk or ride a bike to work. Still others recycle and use renewable energy at home and work.

The good news too is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened, and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders, and scientists to demand immediate action.

Over one billion persons in 192 countries now take part in Earth Day. Improving the environment will take a sustained effort, but together we can do it. Pope Francis agrees.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.