Pope Francis calls us to a humbler way of living with creation

How does nature feed your spirit?
Our Faith

“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”
(Psalm 19:2)

In 2015, Pope Francis wrote Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home). In 2023, he wrote an even stronger encyclical, Laudate Deum (On the Climate Crisis). Reading these texts has me reflecting on my personal relationship with nature.

Growing up, on weekends my siblings and I played outside: TV time was very limited. We usually played tag, rode bikes, or, in winter, went sledding. My brother and I used to ride our bikes to the nearby creek and explore the trails and rocky crevasses along the water.

My family nourished my love for hiking and camping. I remember camping at Treasure Island Boy Scout Camp and seeing so many stars, even the Milky Way. I loved being in nature. In my days at the seminary, when I wasn’t in the library I’d be in the woods near campus. In the winter months, I loved walking to a nearby pond and watching the snow fall over the water and surrounding rocks.


As a young priest, I wanted to share my awe of nature with future generations. At my first assignment, I started taking the altar boys camping. Then I worked with a Camp Fire Troop, first hiking and then camping. Soon my high school group was also hiking and camping.

When I began taking boys on our Canadian wilderness trips, I was nervous because of the dangers the trip posed but determined to introduce the youth to the rivers, lakes, and forests of Canada. After a few years, girls asked to go but I, perhaps being chauvinistic, said it was too dangerous. They were determined and won me over. My most memorable Masses were celebrating the Eucharist using an overturned canoe as my altar, with a lake or river behind me and 30 youth and young adults as my congregation.

After I engaged in civil disobedience in 1987, the government forbade me from leaving the country, and the church suspended me. Between trials, with no responsibilities in a parish, I would go to the Pocono Mountains, where my family had a vacation house, and sit on the porch. I would just watch the sway of the trees in the breeze. It gave me such comfort, such joy.

As a Claretian, I moved to the Ozarks, where I found much beauty in those mountains. After I returned to Chicago, I loved walking along the lakefront. Nowadays I visit the Chicago Botanic Garden and Morton Arboretum to find woods, trails, and the beauty of God’s creation. I have a special spot at the former, the Zen Garden, where I like to sit in silence, watch the patterns in the gravel, and just breathe.


In Laudate Deum, Pope Francis calls for a “humbler but more fruitful way” of living. He calls on individual, national, and international support to stop thinking of humans as “autonomous, omnipotent and limitless” entities; we are one with nature. The pope calls on us, citizens of the United States, to embrace a “broad change in [our] irresponsible lifestyle,” demonstrating “genuine care” for others and our world.

I still want to share my awe of nature with future generations. But you and I can’t do it alone. We need all “people of good will” to join us. Link your efforts with another and encourage them to do the same. Together we will concretely praise God. 

This article also appears in the April 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 4, page 9). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Courtesy of Father Tom McGann, C.M.F.