Posted June 17, 2015
Franciscan: Encyclical title affirms all creatures have common creator
Catholic News Service
Francis: The Environment Encyclical, Rome
"Laudato Si,' " the
title Pope Francis chose for his encyclical on the environment, comes from a
hymn of praise by St. Francis of Assisi that emphasizes being in harmony with
God, with other creatures and with other human beings, said the head of the
Sitting under towering trees, surrounded by potted flowers
and herbs in the garden of the Franciscan headquarters in Rome, U.S. Fr. Michael
Perry, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, sang the medieval Italian
words "laudato si'" (praised be you) and recited the English translation of St.
Francis' "Canticle of the Creatures."
The hymn praises God and the reflection
of God's glory in "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon," "Brother Fire" and "Sister
Water," and "our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who
produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs."
The canticle is
incomplete, though, without St. Francis' praise of human beings "who give
pardon," bear infirmity and live in peace, Perry told Catholic News Service
Friday. Also essential is St. Francis' embrace of "Sister Bodily Death" as the
portal to eternal life.
As airplanes flew overhead, birds chirped,
butterflies flitted around the garden and the occasional ambulance siren
sounded, the Franciscan minister general said St. Francis of Assisi, over the
course of his life, came to recognize that "God was present everywhere and in
Once a person recognizes the "divine dignity" of every created
being, Perry said, he or she recognizes a responsibility to "give glory to God
by respecting and caring and promoting a sense of 'being in this together,' that
life is one and each of us brings a special contribution."
interconnectedness of all creatures should help people to recognize that when
they hoard riches and resources, they are harming their own brothers and
sisters, especially the poor, he explained.
St. Francis' canticle "is not
just a flowery song about how we should live with nature. It is challenging us
to revise our entire way of living our lives" in accordance with Gospel values,
he said. "If someone is starving somewhere in the world, we are
The canticle is a call for people to recognize that they are
sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters to one another, he said,
"part of one family that embraces all creation: trees, sun, rivers, wind, fire
-- all of these because they all give glory to God."
While St. Francis'
praise of Brother Sun and Sister Moon has been romanticized in many ways, Perry
said, the obligations it carries are very realistic and concrete: to defend
human dignity, especially the dignity of the poor; to promote dialogue and
reconciliation to end war; to safeguard the earth and all living creatures; and
to learn to live with just what one needs, not all that one wants.
before the scheduled release June 18 of the encyclical, Perry said the title
signals Pope Francis' belief that the entire church and all its members must be
in solidarity with the poor, "must be about peace" and must respect the
By praising nature's harmony with God, St. Francis' canticle helps
people understand what kinds of relationships they must have in order to live in
peace and to give glory to God, he said. Stories about St. Francis, such as the
one about him taming a wolf who was attacking the people of Gubbio, could really
be stories about how "the population was really terrorizing itself" with family
feuds, neighbors fighting and towns battling each other for control of territory
and wealth, the Franciscan said.
As with the people of 13th-century Gubbio,
so today with climate change and drought and more violent storms, Perry said,
"nature is barking, nature is chasing after us, telling us we have got to wake
up. It's disturbing us; it is not disturbing in order to threaten our lives. It
is telling us we are already a threat to ourselves. We're a threat to the world.
Nature is telling us, 'Step back from the brink before it's too late.'"
the work of St. John Paul II, retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, he
said, the Catholic church presents a vision of "human ecology, social ecology
and the natural ecology."
Focusing on just one, Perry said, "can lead us to
misrepresent what God wants."
While the Judeo-Christian tradition says God
chose to have a special relationship with human beings, it does not mean human
beings have a right to exploit and abuse other creatures or the natural
environment, he said.
"What happens in exploitation without limitation is
that not only is nature stripped of its dignity, which God gave it -- we cannot
deny that -- but we are progressively stripped of our own dignity" as those
called to care for creation, he said.
Perry said he expects Pope Francis to
use his encyclical to promote an "integral ecology," which urges respect for the
human person and God's plan for human life, for just social relationships and
for care of the natural world.
The point is not "to shame" those who are
destroying the earth or to disagree with the majority of scientists who say
global warming is real and is a threat, Perry said. Rather, like St. Francis in
warring Italian towns or in the midst of the Crusades, "Pope Francis is trying
to be the bearer of that white flag" to promote dialogue and help everyone
reclaim their dignity as God's children called to care for creation.
urged not just reading the encyclical but studying it with attention to what it
is saying about the future of the planet, about Christian discipleship and about
ways they can make a difference.