By Marybeth Lorbiecki (Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2014)
In Following St. Francis: John Paul II’s Call for Ecological Action, Marybeth Lorbiecki uses primary sources to successfully weave together the holistic ecological vision of St. John Paul II. She convincingly argues that the late pontiff’s ecological paradigm is both inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and underpins in many ways the work of Pope Francis.
Lorbiecki observes that for John Paul, care of God’s creation is a moral imperative fundamentally rooted in Catholic teaching and connected with the church’s other social concerns. He attributes environmental degradation to many ills like consumerism, unbridled capitalism, unsustainable investment practices, overpopulation, and corporate greed. Lorbiecki illustrates how John Paul calls all people to deeper care of creation through conversion, temperance, solidarity, and promotion of the common good. Using the pope’s treatment of 12 pressing ecological challenges, she notes how he explicitly accepts the reality of humanity’s impact on climate change and endorses renewable energy technologies.
At times Lorbiecki can seem overly uncritical of John Paul II. For example, she recognizes the fractured state of American Catholicism—which often pits a narrowly defined pro-life agenda against more integrated concerns for peace, justice, and creation care—and laments it as inconsistent with the pope’s ecological vision. At the same time, however, she fails to even acknowledge that John Paul II might have been at least partially responsible for this ecclesial reality.
From the beginning Lorbiecki recognizes her decision to focus positively on the pope’s ecological vision and acknowledges that he, like all people, was imperfect. Nevertheless, the book could have benefited from acknowledging tensions with his vision. Despite this minor point, the book will undoubtedly benefit popular and scholarly audiences alike.
This article appeared in the October 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 10, page 43).