Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi: “On the care of our common home.”
—by John deJong
Full disclosure: My last two years of high school were spent at the now-defunct St. Francis Catholic High in Provo, Utah. I found the brothers and sisters of the Franciscan order dedicated and challenging in a “you can do this” way. I remember the stark natural garden in the close of the convent that adjoined the school, a reminder of St. Francis’s encouragement to allow a bit of nature to grow wild.
On June 18, Pope Francis published an encyclical—a letter for the entire church, to which “loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given,” according to the second Vatican Council. It is a teaching that people of all religious leanings can get behind.
Pundits have made much of Pope Francis’s position on global warming, but that is only a small part of his broad indictment of what capitalism unrestrained by a strong moral compass is doing to our Mother Earth.
Mahatma Gandhi might well have said, “I like your Christ and I like your pope.” It’s telling that Pope Francis is the first member of the Jesuit order to become pope. Jesuits are generally more interested in doing good works than in the trappings of office or playing political games. It is also telling that Pope Francis’s mentor, Stefan Czmil, was a Salesian—the order founded by Saint John Bosco in the early 19th century to help poor children during the industrial revolution.
on scientific myopia:
“The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant.”
on scientific reductionism:
“Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources.”
calling for technology to serve the interests of the common man, rather than the capitalist imperative of Return On Investment:
“Liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm does in fact happen sometimes, for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people’s concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create and contemplate beauty manages to overcome reductionism through a kind of salvation which occurs in beauty and in those who behold it.
and finally, expressing a deep trust in our better natures:
“Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.”
Pope Francis, with his encyclical “On care for our common home” has set a standard of moral care for our environment and all other beings on the planet that religious organizations around the world need to embrace. The upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions, held this year in Salt Lake City in October should be interesting in light of Francis’s upping the ante in the global environmental game.
John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST magazine.