(by Jessica Trygstad)
Upon the release of Pope Francis’ ecological encyclical, Catholics are describing it as a call to action.
A June 18 panel hosted by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s bishops, included perspectives of public policy, the local Church, theology and family farming that articulated why “Laudato Si: on Care for Our Common Home” is important.
The major theme of the encyclical — addressed to “all people of good will” — centers on what the pope calls “integral ecology,” said Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud, explaining that there is a fundamental relationship of every human being with God, others, oneself and creation.
Pope Francis’ understanding of creation goes back to his namesake of St. Francis, who “saw the earth and everything and everybody in it as a gift and not as a possession, something that we use up,” Bishop Kettler said. “Rather, [the earth] is to be used well. The creation of God is to be continuing through us and then handed on better to those coming after us.”
In “Laudato Si” — meaning “praised be,” the first words of St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures — Pope Francis emphasizes the need for open and honest dialogue in “building a network of respect for all people and for nature,” Bishop Kettler said.
Christopher Thompson, dean of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, described the encyclical as “a moral and spiritual document” that intends to convoke a “profound conversion.”
“This is not an encyclical on climate change,” Thompson said, noting that only four of the document’s roughly 190 pages address the topic. “This is a call to a profound examination of conscience on the part of [people] . . . to look deeply at their attitudes towards nature and creation in matters of their habits of consumption and especially in matters of technology.”
In what he called a “magisterial exercise,” Thompson said Pope Francis cites prior popes, doctors of the church and the Bible, and refers to Protestant, Orthodox and Muslim scholars.
“Francis is summoning all of the great religious and ethical traditions around the subject of the care of creation,” he said. “‘Laudato Si’ repeatedly insists that ‘everything is connected’ under the provident care of the Father. On 11 separate occasions, the encyclical directly speaks to the interconnectedness of all things, especially the human person within creation. All creatures great and small are connected because of our total dependence upon a loving God who wills each of us into being.”
Brad and Leanne Donnay own and operate Donnay Dairy in Kimball, about 30 miles west of Monticello, in the Diocese of St. Cloud. Brad said reading the encyclical was affirmation that they’re living as God intended — choosing to keep their organic farm a family operation.
“We feel morally comfortable . . . we know that we’re not doing any harm with our way of life,” Leanne said, “if not adding value to the earth and to what people consume.”
Opting for sustainability and better health, the Donnays discontinued the use of pesticides. Their goat cheese is available seasonably in Twin Cities restaurants, including Common Roots Café and Heartland, and the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis.
“We wanted to raise a family on the farm, to instill that work ethic, and we wanted to have healthy kids,” Brad said. “So we chose to be more sustainable and go towards organic.”
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said that because public policy serves the common good, it’s an important part of the discussion surrounding the encyclical.
“When the Church talks about politics and participates in the public arena, our goal is to be principled, but not ideological; to be politically engaged, but not partisan,” he said. “So we need to discern how to act.”
Rather than proposing detailed solutions in his encyclical, Adkins said Pope Francis highlights the issues, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is addressing through public policy pieces that protect the earth. For instance, the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) would provide matching grants to help nonprofits, including Catholic parishes, make energy-efficient improvements. The U.S. bishops also are calling for national leaders to embrace a plan from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting carbon pollution, thus protecting public health and mitigating climate change. Additionally, an international Green Climate Fund would help countries develop green technology and adapt to harsher climate change.
Adkins said Pope Francis invites people to “create opportunities for dialogue and arrive at solutions that aren’t simply technical in nature, but also have an ethical framework and involve a diverse swath of the population.”
Bishop Kettler said Catholics should read the pope’s message and then come together to talk about it, especially starting a conversation with youth who “are caught in a culture that is very wasteful and very throw-away type.”
“So how do you bring people from principles to action and then to come up with some specific things, and to do it through our parishes?” he said.