By Tanya Connor and William T. Clew
Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, has elicited reactions from local people, some of whom have not only expressed concerns about the environment but have acted on those concerns.
The encyclical is a call to conversion of our lifestyle, attitude, values and priorities, said Jesuit Father Thomas Worcester, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross.
Bishop McManus said there is no single or instant answer to the problems in the environment, but that the solution will come from “small steps taken by everyone.”
The encyclical, Bishop McManus said in a statement, “calls for dialogue throughout the world on how we can be better stewards of the earth and, in so doing, be more responsive to the plight of the poor around the world. His call for an ‘integral ecology’ to be lived out joyfully respects the dignity of each person, identifies a moral obligation to protect the environment, and promotes social justice by supporting responsible economic development with respect for all people and the earth.
“What is most encouraging about this encyclical is that the Holy Father invites every person, including both people of faith and of no faith, to assume a role for themselves in addressing the future of the Earth,” Bishop McManus said. “The solution will come from small steps taken by everyone. There is no single or instant answer to the problem of the toxicity of many urban areas, or of the scarcity of resources in remote parts of the world, but an answer can be found by a world focused on the issue.
“While it will take many months and even years to grasp fully the complex realities of Laudato Si, we can all begin to ponder the overarching question Pope Francis poses: What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?
“Beyond a question of environmentalism lies a more fundamental question for every person: What is the purpose of our life in this world? This question is a call to conversion which generates renewed hope for each person and for the world in which we were invited to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ May we all stand in awe of the beauty of the earth, an earth which is resplendent with the wonder of God the creator,” the bishop said.
“What a wonderfully comprehensive assessment of the relationship between the human family and our ‘common home,’” remarked David J. O’Brien, professor emeritus of history at the College of the Holy Cross and a member of St. Mary Parish in Jefferson.
“Pope Francis speaks from a global perspective words about global warming, its impact on the poor, and the need for massive changes, not just in policies but in our way of thinking about our earth and one another. In his characteristic way he invites us all to find meaning and purpose, even joy, in living and working together to ‘renew the face of the earth.’”
“His redefinition of progress is right on the money,” Claire Schaeffer-Duffy of the SS Francis and Therese Catholic Worker said. “Care for our environment has moral consequences.”
After a cursory reading of a summary of the pope’s encyclical, and hearing commentary on it, she said she feels heartened, impressed and grateful.
She noted that said some of what the pope is speaking about already has been implemented by some women’s religious orders. She said a of group religious sisters in Michigan, for example, have constructed their motherhouse in an environmentally sensitive way so that they and those who make retreats there enjoy a green habitat.
She also noted that a religious sister who has traveled in Malaysia has seen that the destruction of palm trees has had adverse effects on the livelihood of the indigenous population.
In historical terms, Father Worcester said the pope’s encyclical is “excellent” and “extremely significant.”
“I would would even say that it is the most important encyclical since 1891,” he said.
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, on the rights of workers in the Industrial Age. He said that On Capital and Labor, the English title, usually is considered the beginning of Catholic social teachings in modern times. It focused on moral issues that grew out of the Industrial Revolution.
He said this encyclical is full of references to encyclicals of earlier popes. Pope Francis is explicit in his comparisons to the thoughts of earlier popes.
“What’s really new here is the sense of urgency,” Father Worcester said. “It is urgent now, not something we can put off.”
Father Worcester said he read the entire encyclical of about 180 pages Thursday morning.
“Since it’s urgent now, I decided to read it all now, now sometime at the beach in August,” he said with a laugh.
Father Worcester teaches history at Holy Cross, and recently taught a class on the papacy.
“I think (Pope Francis is) on the right side of history and taking a chance,” said Brayton Shanley, of St. Aloysius Parish and the Agape lay Catholic community, both in Hardwick. He’s courageously and relevantly talking about current issues.
Agape members’ environmentally friendly practices include eating organic vegetables they grow, fertilizing their fruit trees from their compost toilet, driving a car powered by used restaurant grease, and getting 80 percent of their electricity and hot water from solar panels, some of which are on a house made of straw bales, Mr. Shanley said. He said they pay extra to get the rest of their electricity off the grid from renewable sources such as wind and water.
The community will start reading and meditating on the encyclical for a daily reflection, he said.
Poep Francis “falls into the line of prophecy; he’s telling the truth,” he said. “He has the strength of his role behind it.” But, he said, “he speaks not just as pope; he reminds people of Jesus and … St. Francis, patron saint of ecology. … He’s challenging people who are standing in the way. He’s not just trying to explain it. … He’s saying it’s wrong scientifically” to deny climate change; he standing with a consensus of climate scientists.
“We need him to use his role to wake people up,” Mr. Shanley said. “He’s taking the heat. We stand with him and we’re proud to be Catholics. I think that’s what he expects. … He’s counting on it having some impact.”