Bishop's Heart and Mind - Care for our Common Home
This reflection of Bishop Justin's is adapted from Bishop Greg O'Kelly article in 'The Witness'.

Because of the enormous physical expanse of our Diocese, 1.3 million sq kms, going from Coorow and Leeman in the south, to Port and South Hedland in the north, and because we include fertile and arid lands, farming, pastoral stations, fishing and mining, producing cereal crops, and from mother earth minerals, oils and gas, the raising of sheep and cattle , and with the wild life of Kangaroo and Emu who flank our national crest, with the presence of the first Australians who bind themselves to the earth, and with all the majesty of the red earth and blue skies, with our coastal beauty, rugged  gorges and expansive crops in season, a letter from the Pope on care for the Earth should be something that we, as a Diocese, embrace with thanks and delight.

But this letter of the Holy Father is far from a poetic description of nature. It starts with the song of praise of Saint Francis of Assisi, but moves quickly to affirm that care of our planet obliges us to be involved, remembering that the poor are being oppressed through neglect of our conduct.  

Nations like the peoples of the Pacific do not create pollution, but their islands suffer because of the nations who do. And ecology is not about saving a polar bear on an ice flow, but embraces the need to do whatever we can to ensure access to clean drinking water for millions of people in developing countries such as Bangladesh.

If there is drought in our state, nobody dies. If a tropical harvest collapses, what it means for us is  that prices rise but in Central America people starve.

This is not just Pope Francis trotting out a hobby horse. He refers back to Pope John XXIII, to Paul VI, to John Paul II, to Benedict, and each of those Popes has been addressing us about the need to take care of the earth seriously. We cannot say that we love God, and then help destroy God’s creation. Pope Francis in his encyclical quotes the Orthodox Patriarch, and he quotes sixteen Bishops Conferences from around the world, all concerned about care for the earth.

Humanity has to do what it can to reduce its role in global warming. We are called to be stewards of creation, not destroyers of it. The imbalance between richer and poorer nations is often the fault of the richer. Great areas of forest in the Amazon, one of the earth’s lungs, are stripped away daily to make room for cattle, to supply a meat market. The Pope warns us against leaving a planet of debris, desolation and filth for the generations yet to come.

The word encyclical literally means a letter that goes around, like a circular. Normally it is addressed by the Pope to the Bishops of the Church, but Pope Francis has addressed this one to the whole world, making it an urgent challenge to all who call this planet home.  ‘In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home’ [para 3].

The Pope certainly addresses the Encyclical to World Leaders, Scientists and people who have power and influence. He calls for international cooperation and solutions in this matter.

Pope Francis also calls on each person and says that doing small things like ‘turning off the lights’ are important.‘Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices’ [para 211].

The Pope also points to the family where we can all learn so much. ‘In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enable us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for wat we have been given, to control our aggressiveness and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings’ [para 213].

Every effort no matter how small can help. ‘We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile’ [para 212].

Yes all of us who call this planet home are called by the Pope to work together to protect the wellbeing of the earth and to defend the poor.

Some Questions and Answers about Laudato Si

  1. What’s new in Laudato si’? What’s in this document that we have not seen from the Church before?

    The document is a call to conversion and action. While Laudato si’ fits perfectly within Catholic tradition, it is saying with new force that concern for the environment is no longer “optional” for a believer. Caring for the environment is now even more clearly and surely part of Church teaching. 

  2. Why does the Pope pay little attention to the population problem?

    Laudato si’ acknowledges that population density can be a complicating factor in some areas. But people are not the problem. Waste is a much bigger problem: our throwaway culture and our tendency to consume without reflecting on our real needs, both material and spiritual. 

  3. The Encyclical seems to make technology and finance enemies. Isn’t that a bit simplistic, even retrograde?

    Technology and financial markets can be wonderful instruments, as long as they are serving human beings, enhancing human dignity, as opposed to making relatively few very rich and a lot of people slaves. This calls for honest debate. What constitutes real technological progress? Where does it help human dignity, but where does it degrade it? Or financial markets: are they helping to spread the wealth? Are they helping to bring people out of poverty? 

  4. Laudato si’ argues against fossil fuels. And yet cheap energy has done a lot to lift the poor out of poverty. Does the Pope want to deny them that possibility?

    No. The Pope wants the wealthy nations, and those that have polluted more, to cut back on fossil fuels. He argues that alternative energy is available for all. But that requires solidarity: wealthy nations sharing their profits, helping the poorer nations to develop alternative energy sources.

  5. It appears that the Pope is backing global agricultural planning on a massive scale (n.129, 164). That’s not really his job, is it?

    Neither the Pope, nor the bishops around the world, are going to provide technical solutions. But they will speak on behalf of those with no voice. That’s all the Pope is doing: saying that we either change the way we are producing crops, or we’re headed for trouble. It will be for others - conscientious laypeople - to work out the solutions.

  6. Why is the Pope so anti-market? (for example: 189, 190) Isn’t this just a Latin American prejudice?

    Look at the unemployment rates among young people in Europe, and the number of people risking their lives to leave Africa. There’s nothing Latin American about this at all. The global economy right now is simply not serving the great majority of people. That’s all he’s saying. Yes, plenty of wealth has been created by the market economy; but there’s also too much absolute misery, and plenty of indifference to go with it.

  7. Does Laudato si’ promote wealth re-distribution? N. 193 seems to suggest that.

    Laudato si’ promotes solidarity among people and nations. Pope Francis has no magic formula for how the wealth should be shared, but he certainly is calling on those who have more than they can eat to open their minds and their hearts, and to share with those who don’t have enough.


A Prayer for our Earth

All-powerful God,

you are present in the whole universe

and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned and

forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognise that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for

justice, love and peace.  Amen.