By Tanya Connor
and William T. Clew
Pope Francis’ encyclical about the environment, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” 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 the encyclical “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 … people of faith and of no faith to assume a role for themselves in addressing the future of the Earth,” the bishop 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.
In historical terms, the pope’s encyclical is “excellent” and “extremely significant,” said Father Worcester, who teaches history at Holy Cross and recently taught a class on the papacy. “I would even say that it is the most important encyclical since 1891.”
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote “Rerum Novarum” (On Capital and Labor) about the rights of workers in the Industrial Age, considered the beginning of Catholic social teaching in modern times.
“What’s really new here is the sense of urgency,” he said.
“What a wonderfully comprehensive assessment of the relationship between the human family and our ‘common home,’” remarked David J. O’Brien, Holy Cross professor emeritus of history, 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.’”
“He speaks not just as pope; he reminds people of Jesus and … St. Francis, patron saint of ecology,” said Brayton Shanley, of St. Aloysius Parish and the Agape lay Catholic community in Hardwick. “He’s taking the heat. … He’s counting on it having some impact.”
Agape members can say they live the encyclical. They eat organic vegetables they grow, fertilize their fruit trees from their compost toilet, drive a car powered by used restaurant grease, and get 80 percent of their electricity and hot water from solar panels, some of which are on a house made of straw bales, according to Mr. Shanley. He said they pay extra to get the rest of their electricity off the grid from renewable sources such as wind and water. Now they will meditate on the encyclical.
“I think what the pope is saying is that progress can no longer be measured by profit, how quickly we can acquire … resources … how quickly we can develop our technology,” said Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, of the SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker House in Worcester. “You go from one smartphone to another one and … ignore what it did to the people who created it” or the environment from which they got its components. “He’s saying the measurement has to be the human being and the Earth; those are what God created.”
She said the SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker tries to use organic flour for its bakery and has an urban garden to get food locally and “reduce our carbon footprints.” She and her husband share a small car and have two children “working on food justice,” she said.
Nissa Gadbois, of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in West Brookfield, suggested buying locally grown food and learning how to preserve food to avoid waste.
“While traveling out to a farm to purchase foods may seem like an added burden on time, it does make for a wonderful, relaxing break from the bustle of everyday life, offers you an opportunity to help build a caring community around those who feed their neighbors, and ensures that you are supporting someone who cares about the stewardship of the environment,” she said.
“We need to move beyond the quick solutions because we don’t think about the far reaching effects,” said Sister Rena Mae Gagnon, a Little Franciscan of Mary who serves at Our Lady of Providence Parish in Worcester. “How will trash in landfills influence our drinking water and health in the future?” Human beings have an obligation to protect present and future life on the planet, she said.
Sister Rena Mae, who has long advocated for forgoing bottled water, also spoke about not using disposable utensils, and pesticides which affect crops and drinking water. She said environmental change involves “having the courage and responsibility to do the right thing.”
– Annie Sandoli, a senior at the University of Massachusetts and intern at The Catholic Free Press, contributed to this report.