Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home) is often referred to as Pope Francis’ “environmental” encyclical. Indeed, the contribution Laudato Si’ makes to the church’s social doctrine is steeped in themes of sustainability and ecological justice, but that doesn’t mean that it is only about the environment. On the contrary, the way in which Laudato Si’ builds upon the existing social teachings of the church and is built upon by Pope Francis’ successive encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship), demands that Catholics embrace integral ecology as a way of recognizing the interrelatedness of all things in God.
The editors selected 14 quotes from U.S. Catholic articles that show the many ways Laudato Si’ informs how we care for God’s creation.
On care for people who are poor
“Catholics have this recognition that development and ecology aren’t separate. It’s not like if we care for the environment we somehow are not then giving our energies into issues of poverty: The two are interconnected. . . . The impact of climate change is almost always on the poorest of the poor. In this way theology, in addition to giving people of faith that motivation to do something about climate change, can also be a spokesperson on behalf of the most marginalized groups who are suffering the worst effects of climate change.”
—Celia Deane-Drummond, “Caring for the Earth isn’t optional,” Expert Witness, July 2018.
“The stereotype for a long time has been that the ecological movement is a bunch of atheist tree-huggers. I think what Pope Francis is trying to say [by using the term ecological conversion] is that how you care for the interconnectedness of species is actually a mainstream part of Catholic tradition. He’s using a religious term to argue that part of what it means to be Catholic is to change how you’re viewing the Earth. Pope Francis uses pro-life arguments in both their literal form and their broadest form to say that people are responsible not just for human species but also animal species. Catholics should be concerned about the Earth precisely because they are Catholic. It’s a way to positively insert religion into the environmental movement.”
—Stacy Davis, “Changes of heart,” Expert Witness, June 2021.
“In [Fratelli Tutti], his follow-up to Laudato Si’ published last October, the pope warned against treating ‘magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ . . . as the only solution to societal problems.’ The idea that large tax cuts for the wealthiest will eventually prove a benefit to the rest of us has been an idée fixe for decades among affluenza victims and their servants in politics, media, and academics. The theory persists despite little evidence of real-world efficacy and, as the pope points out in Fratelli Tutti, ‘little appreciation . . . that the alleged ‘spillover’ does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society.’”
—Kevin Clarke, “Can Christian economics promote a trickle-up effect?” Margin Notes, March 2021.
“After limiting the use of fossil fuels, reducing dietary dependence on animal agriculture is the second most effective method of preventing climate change and environmental degradation. That means that eating less meat is a significant way to live out the Catholic call to care for creation—in terms of both tilling and keeping the Earth and caring for the Earth’s most vulnerable communities. . . . For example, animal agriculture requires 18 times more land use than what is needed to produce the same amount of food for someone who maintains a vegan diet.”
—Stephanie Clary, “Can one person’s dietary decisions affect the common good?” Sounding Board, June 2020.
“I have lived in places of great natural beauty—even places that appeared, to the naïve eye, mostly undisrupted. The Gulf Coast. The Blue Ridge Mountains. The northern coast of Michigan. But it isn’t easy to find natural beauty, or any scene that might inspire spontaneous praise or pastoral poetry, in my current home. Here I mostly find a landscape of mourning. But the terrain of grief is also worth writing about. It is becoming urgent, in fact, that writers tell this story of absence and loss.”
—Jessica Mesman, “Ecowriting: A new way to cope with ecological grief,” Culture in Context, January 2020.
“What is really needed to save both the unborn and the planet is a spiritual conversion of hearts. Some legal scholars say it is unlikely that overturning Roe v. Wade will actually prevent abortions, since women who want one will find a way to get one, probably resulting in greater risks to the mother herself. Likewise, climate scientists conclude that unless we drastically reduce fossil-fuel emissions, the Earth will become a very different place and potentially uninhabitable. In other words, enforcing morality through legislation is insufficient to address the underlying need to respect life in all its forms. . . . How can we, as Christ’s earthly body, fully respond to this call to be defenders of both life and creation itself?”
—Michael Wright, “Why I didn’t attend the 2020 March for Life,” February 2020.
“What happened between Rerum Novarum in 1891 and Laudato Si’ in 2015 is the unfolding story of a step-by-step embrace of the gospel call to love, justice, peace, and mercy. It hasn’t been a perfect reckoning—uneven in passion, focus, and strategy—but it’s a reckoning nevertheless. It chronicles the rebirth of the language of discipleship in the Catholic lexicon. It is an effort to remember and reclaim the memory, legacy, and mission of lifesaving.”
—Jack Jezreel, “To rescue a sinking church, think mission not membership,” September 2019.
On nuclear weapons
“Francis is leading the church into a rejection not only of the use of these earth-cracking weapons, deplored since 1963’s Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), but also into new territory, enthusiastically aligning the Holy See with a worldwide movement to rid the earth of nuclear weapons and declaring the policy of deterrence no longer a qualified moral exception to its condemnation of the nuclear weapons regime.”
—Kevin Clarke, “Where does the church stand on nuclear weapons?” September 2018.
On racial justice
“In [Laudato Si’], Pope Francis talks about how everyone thinks that technology is progress and that industrialization is always moving us forward. He says we have to stop and talk about the downside to technological advancement. People of color understand that. They have borne the cost of technological production. We’ve borne it with the polluted land and waters. And the encyclical is the first really widespread document that talks about it. In our society, we treat those suffering because of climate change like throwaway people.”
—Sylvia Hood Washington, “Climate justice is a matter of faith,” Expert Witness, March 2016.
“We haven’t made the animals and the natural world part of our narrative of salvation. We haven’t included them in what Christ has done. We know God created everything in the beginning, but then they disappear. Everything is all about us. So I started to write an ambitious book to get us to consider a whole new theology of redemption, starting from square one again and bringing in what’s crucial for the future of life on this planet. As I gave lectures on this idea, everywhere I went somebody inevitably said, ‘You’re really wrong about all this, because we’re saved by the cross, and Jesus died to save us from our sins.’ . . . This idea that salvation takes place through the cross to save us and forgive us from sins has a real grip on our collective imagination. But this seriously reduces the meaning of redemption in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.”
—Elizabeth A. Johnson, “No one had to die for our sins,” Expert Witness, November 2018.
“I think Laudato Si’ opened the door to talking about science and faith in a new way. Pope Francis came right out and said, ‘We need science.’ I don’t know a lot about how previous popes talked about sciences, but Laudato Si’ was straightforward in calling for a dialogue between religion and science. It was set in language that people could understand. It wasn’t some Vatican tome in Latin. It was also significant because it cited research from the pontifical academies. They have certainly always been there and utilized in one way or another, but this was the first time the general public became aware of them.”
—Dawn Nothwehr, “Is there space for science in seminaries? This professor says yes.” Expert Witness, May 2020.
“Pope Francis writes presciently in Laudato Si’ that ‘technological products are not neutral’ but instead end up ‘shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.’ He explains that decisions about technologies ‘are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.’ . . . Well, ironically, what we need to pay attention to most is attention itself. Attention is not a flashy moral issue. In fact, we are apt to forget that attention names a moral act and a habit of acting that shapes pretty much everything else we do. Attention is the gateway choice that shapes all our other choices.”
—David Cloutier, “In the war for your attention, keep your eyes on Jesus,” Culture in Context, February 2021.
On urban planning
“Pope Francis talks about the innate tension between globalization and localization. He warns against a bland, abstract universalism and emphasizes the practical forms that connect us to one another at the local level. There’s this theme throughout his papacy on the dangers of enclosures, the dangers of walls. In urban planning there are lessons on whether we are thinking about the whole city when, for example, we’re making comprehensive plans for creating affordable housing. Or are we just thinking about some parts of the city? There’s an invitation in Fratelli Tutti to get really practical about what it means to build interconnection. Planning offers a resource to do that.”
—Jamie Kralovec, “Urban planning is an inherently Catholic practice,” Expert Witness, May 2021.
“Economists believe that people are motivated by money and work only because if we were not, we would starve. But the Catholic tradition understands that when we work, we act out our human nature, which is profoundly social, creative, and in the image of God. We grow in ways that are uniquely human: ‘creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God,’ as Pope Francis says in Laudato Si’. The ultimate purpose of work is not to earn wages, keep ourselves busy, or even make ourselves useful to society, but to be the type of creature God made us to be: creative, active human beings collaborating with others.”
—Kate Ward, “Does Catholic social teaching support a universal basic income?” Sounding Board, April 2020.