October 6, 2015 // Local

Conference explores Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’

Dr. Adam DeVille, Dr. J. Matthew Ashley, John Carr and Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love take part in the panel discussion towards the end of the conference on “Laudato Si’.”

By Corine Erlandson 

FORT WAYNE — During his recent visit to the U.S., Pope Francis referred to his groundbreaking environmental encyclical “Laudato Si’” numerous times. The University of Saint Francis and Our Sunday Visitor presented a conference Oct. 3 for the Fort Wayne community entitled, “Sharing the Gospel of Creation: Integral Ecology and Catholic Theology in Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si’.” “Laudato Si’” (“Blessed Be”) is the encyclical letter on the environment issued by Pope Francis in June 2015.

The half-day conference on the USF campus featured four speakers, including John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University; Dr. J. Matthew Ashley, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame; Dr. Maryanne Cusimano Love, associate professor of International Relations in the Politics Department of the Catholic University of America; and Dr. Adam DeVille, associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Saint Francis.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades attended the conference with nearly 60 in attendance and opened it with prayer. Conference organizer Dr. Lance Richey, USF dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, noted in his opening remarks that in “Laudato Si’,” one hears Pope Francis’ concern about the earthly environment, as well as St. Francis of Assisi’s love and wonder for creation.

Speaker John Carr noted Pope Francis’ integrated approach to protecting nature and combating poverty. Pope Francis focuses on the “least of these,” he explained. “I think the most important word in the encyclical is the word ‘and,’” Carr said, explaining that the encyclical proposes a commitment to the poor and creation, and care for the planet and people.

“Laudato Si’” is not a document focused only on climate change, Carr stressed. Rather, “Laudato Si’” considers air and water quality, plant and animal species affected by the environment and life in the cities. Overall, Pope Francis is proposing “a moral framework and a new way of thinking about our relationship with nature,” Carr said.

Dr. J. Matthew Ashley spoke about the use of science in “Laudato Si’.” He believes that Pope Francis is building upon a growing consensus among climate scientists that the health of the environment is suffering. Ashley spoke about two different kinds of knowledge, assertions of science and assertions of faith and morals.

“’Laudato Si’’ shows a relationship between science and faith. Science and faith need to be brought into a dialogue for synthesis,” Ashley said.

Pope Francis’ concern for the poor was apparent in the encyclical noted Ashley. “The degradation of the environment impacts the poor. The Church’s social teaching of a preferential option for the poor should guide our thinking” as we deal with the environment, said Ashley.

Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love marveled at the impact of Pope Francis during his recent U.S. trip. “This poor Argentinian priest has the whole world listening to him,” Cusimano Love said. “Pope Francis is an antidote to the age of the selfie.”

Cusimano Love spoke of Pope Francis’ belief that “the world’s poor have contributed the least to environmental problems and global climate change” but are impacted the most. Cusimano Love gave an example with her recent trip with Catholic Relief Services to northern Ghana in Africa during the summer of 2015.

She said that 88 percent of northern Ghana households survive on subsistence farming. It is a very poor area that has no tractors or mechanized equipment and the soil is depleted. Climate change has caused recent drought conditions, which has decimated the crops that they live on. There is no money for seeds and fertilizers, Cusimano Love said. Malnutrition has affected the children, which impacts their growth and development. Having seen the dire situation of the poor in northern Ghana, Cusimano Love agrees with Pope Francis when “he is saying that poverty and the planet are inter-connected.”

When Dr. Adam DeVille first read “Laudato Si’,” “I was struck by the footnotes,” he said. DeVille noted that non-Catholic sources are usually not cited in papal documents. Pope Francis in “Laudato Si’” refers to “the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,” the Archbishop of Constantinople and head of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has also worked to promote ecology and protection of the environment, although his work and message are not as extensively covered by the media as it is with Pope Francis, DeVille said. Bartholomew has written on the need for repentance for what humans have done to degrade the earth; to live lives with greater simplicity; to have more solicitude for the poor and the earth; and to celebrate the world, which reveals God’s love to all. “One should be grateful that Francis included the writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in ‘Laudato Si’,’” said DeVille.

DeVille also pointed out that Pope Francis comes across as anti-city living in some parts of “Laudato Si’.” One example is when Francis writes, “Neighborhoods … are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal.” DeVille questioned if Pope Francis’ apparent dislike for some aspects of city living or ideas about urban planning should be included in “Laudato Si’.”

“Do such comments belong in a papal encyclical?” DeVille asked. Such a far-reaching discussion in a papal document feeds into the misguided perception that popes can make any changes they want to the Church or doctrine.

Cusimano Love answered that one can argue with Pope Francis’ criticism of city living, “but the overall themes that he is highlighting and the connections that he is making are very important.”

John Carr concurred, saying, “Pope Francis is pointing out that part of being a Catholic is caring for our earth and for the poor, the least of these. This is one of the most remarkable examples of evangelization that I have ever seen.”


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