The first Pope named Francis donated to the Church and the entire world the first encyclical on the environment, “on the care of the common home”. With a declaredly Franciscan title, since the document begins with the same words as the ‘Canticle of the Creatures'” by Saint Francis of Assisi, that is, “Praised be to you, my Lod”. This courageous choice revitalizes the topical relevance of the Poor Man of Assisi, the form of evangelical life he practised and a successful attempt of reform of the Church from the inside through the demanding choice of the poverty of the poor. Who, more than earth, is the poor growing poorer? In fact, “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (n. 2). We are well aware that our planet is systematically object of violence, and while to this regard the Pope avoids the use of apocalyptic tones, he does not refrain from bitter truths, denouncing the fact that “the exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits” (n. 27), perceivable with “signs of a breaking point” (n. 61), the famous point of no return for the sustainability of human life. The first of the document’s six chapters, “What is happening in our home”, encompasses an overview of the various facets of the ecologic crisis: pollution, waste, global warming, extinction of biodiversities, climate change… With a peculiarity, which is to highlight that “human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together” (n. 48; cf. n. 56). There ensues that “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach” (n. 49; cf. nn. 93 e 139). In other words, wondering about the creation always means wondering about the meaning and the ultimate purpose of man with and within it, it means reflecting on man’s responsible actions, and thus environmental ecology requires a human ecology. Moreover, the latter raises questions on the global issues of famine, on the universal distribution of goods, on social inclusion, which naturally leads to a social ecology based on kinship. In fact, on too many occasions the cry of the poor acts as a counterpoint to the cry of the land, for the very fact that they are the ones who pay the highest price of the ecologic crisis. “Sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course” (n. 56). The interweaving of the three forms of ecology (environmental, human and social) confers to the document a truly global dimension. This is the real novelty of this encyclical, which is never limited to localized issues, but rather suggests a “a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality” (n. 111). Do Christians have qualified words to say on the environmental crisis? The documents gives a positive answer to this question, thereby enhancing the “Gospel of Creation”, which titles the second chapter drawing from the wisdom of Biblical passages on creation, to the admired gaze of Jesus on the world, on mankind, on creations. (n. 62-100). It clarifies that the word “‘creation” has a broader meaning than ‘nature'”, (n. 76), that nature should be “demythologized” (cf. n. 78), that each creature has its own purpose and that soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God”. (n. 84). Saint Thomas is quoted from to claim that “God’s infinite goodness cannot be represented by any one creature”, whilst highlighting the singular place (far from being dominator and despotic, as “pre-eminence” is combined with “responsibility”, n. 90, cf. n. 220) which is that of man among all creatures. The lack of this awareness leads to “misguided anthropocentrism” (n. 118) which has been the prevailing feature of a certain form of modernity, the primary cause of the serious ecologic crisis of our times (third chapter: “The human roots of the ecological crisis”). From this problematic background the encyclical highlights ways of recovery from the ecologic deterioration: the first consists in acknowledging the concept of “integral ecology”, encompassing environmental, economic and social ecology (fourth chapter), whereby the ways of presenting the problem are part and parcel of its solution. Before the evident impasse of the political debate on ecology (political summits, experts panels, international conferences…), the fifth chapter (“Lines of approach and action”) calls for “a more responsible overall approach” (n. 175) which should lead to a new governance in terms of more authoritative international bodies, and more specifically a policy that is not subjected to the economy, and nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy (cf. n. 189). Finally, in the last chapter the document focuses on (“Ecological education and spirituality”), “ecological conversion” (n. 217), which in the Christian experience is neither an option or a secondary choice. This conversion will be profound and longlasting provided it is “integral”, thereby involving all areas of human existence, as well as “communitarian”, namely, encompassing entire communities sharing the same goal. Moreover, authentic Christian life is the best antidote against the ecologic crisis.
The encyclical of Pope Francis requires an "ecological conversion" that will involve all areas of individual and communitarian existence