A Critical Appraisal on ‘Laudato Si’

An Encyclical is a Teaching Document issued by the Pope. This is the second Encyclical written by Pope Francis after Lumen Fidei. It is the only Encyclical devoted to Environment All previous Encyclicals are addressed to Bishops, Priests, Religious or Catholic Faithful unlike this one addressed to Every Person on the Planet – Catholics are only a minority… [3] Including a brief introduction, the document comprises six chapters and the document concludes with two prayers, one that can be said by all who believe in God as the all powerful Creator and one that is meant to be said specifically by Christians. The method that the Pope uses through this encyclical is different from the ones used by his predecessors. From an otherwise deductive approach, the Pope turns to an inductive one. Through this remarkable breakthrough, he shows us how a true shepherd knows the smell of his sheep and that is what matters most to him. This article contains ten points of critical appraisal on ‘Laudato Si.’
Firstly, I was captivated by the concept of Ecological Debt [50] that the Pope brings in. In a nut shell, it states that the Northern Hemisphere on the map of the world which comprises mostly of the so called first world countries which indeed are developed; are ecologically indebted to the south. This smells like good news for the poor and bad news for the affluent. However, are there any takers for it? If the Pope were to have his way, he would transform the world of the have’s to care for the have not’s.
Secondly, preaching the message of equality itself is counter cultural. It is dead against profit making and power structures, it speak bad news to those who want to dominate and take control and, if this message has to go across, a lot of hearts have to be won over. A lot of ways have to change. A lot of personal ego has to go away. It means that we have to develop a newer attitude and newer convictions that can enhance the quality of life. [232]This is the challenge the encyclical gives.
Thirdly, moving into newer paradigms [16, 203] involves a conscious slowing down, a responsible reflection, breaking existing structures, even sacrificing to a large extent the pace with which we progress. This would mean we have to redefine a lot of things and create newer definitions to the existing ones.
Fourthly, the poor which finds mention about 60 odd times in the encyclical are the insignificant, the oppressed, the unemployed, the migrants, the anawim a lot of importance has been given to them. Pope Francis gives a voice to the voiceless poor and reaches out to them to hear their cry [49].
Fifthly, this encyclical is multi dimensional in nature. It calls for an interdependent approach to reality [164]. Therefore, there is something in this encyclical for an ecologist, an ethicist, a cultural enthusiast, a spiritual guru, an economic giant and, of course, for a moralist. Pope Francis reiterates that we are all related to one another and it is the Mother Earth that binds us together.
Sixthly, this encyclical invites us for a dialogue at the level of Science and Religion [62]. We have come across the age old saying of Einstein, “Science does not need Religion, neither does Religion need Science but we humans; we need both.” The concern for our Mother Earth can lead to a fruitful dialogue between Science and Religion in their respective spheres and through their own ways.
Seventhly, we see a dichotomy in our world today. The poor and the rich, the powerful and the weak, the have and the have not’s etc; this is the order of the day. This is what drives society forward. We cannot think of an absolute classless for that would be too idealistic and not even practical. However, this encyclical brings in an opportunity to restore hope [78, 210] and wholeness, diminish oppression and bring dignity.
Eighthly, the Human Being is at the centre of this encyclical because it is human inhabitation that adds life to this planet and life to the full [223]. The human being is that rational entity existing hereby who must do something so that we can make a better world. In the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, we are all invited to march together to that Omega point, the ultimate destiny which is awaiting us. It is an invitation to us to set right our relationships with God, with ourselves, with one another and with creation. Then we can surely march forward.
Ninthly, the hallmark of Christian Spirituality, is to be happy with the little. It is not to be mistaken with being happy with mediocrity rather to be satisfied with whatever little one has [222]. The less is more. It invites us to grow in simplicity, to be grateful for every opportunity that life throws up to us and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack.
Lastly, integration is the central message of this document [137 – 162]. This document invites us to integrate our lives, our work, our prayer, our environment not forgetting the insignificant, the poor and the unwanted in society. Together we can take charge to build our common home. [244].It is possible that we do not grasp the reality that is before us [105], yet let’s wake up.

Dn. Ryan Rodrigues, SJ

[Ryan is a III rd year student of theology at JDV]