Statement of the Very Reverend Christopher J. Coyne, Bishop of Burlington, on the occasion of the publication of the encyclical letter, “Laudato si’” – June 18, 2015.
– POPE FRANCIS ASKS: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” His answer? It’s “up to us” (160).
I, along with my fellow Catholics, receive Pope Francis’ encyclical, LAUDATO SI’, mi Signore – “Praise be to you, my Lord” – in a spirit of profound concern for our “Common Home,” planet earth. In this letter, Pope Francis is speaking with a pastor’s heart in offering clear guidance about how we must care for others and care for God’s creation.
Since the encyclical was just made public this morning, we need to take the time to read it and meditate upon it over the days and weeks ahead. I would encourage all, both Catholics and non-Catholics, to do so before drawing any conclusions from the text. It is a long letter that will take a while to digest and ponder well. One point to lift up though: it is important to note that the Holy Father is calling for “dialogue” and “conversation” around the serious environmental issues that humanity is facing. It is clear that this is a teaching document, not a set of policy proposals. Even if one disagrees with some of the points the Pope raises, the moral case for acting to protect the created world remains. Disagreements over the “why” or “what” questions distract from us the moral case that Pope Francis is making regarding care for God’s creation. We have to do something now before it is too late.
It is also important to realize that Francis is writing to the global Church. We here in the United States will hear this in a different way than someone who lives in South America or Asia or Africa. We who have clean water and air, who are seeing our rivers, lakes, and harbors cleaned after years of abuse and pollution need to be mindful of the world’s poor, who as the Pope clearly points out, are most affected by shifts in global weather patterns and air and water pollution. It would be worthwhile perhaps to read this encyclical through the lens of a poor third-world family who do not have access to clean drinking water or clean urban air or necessary sanitation.
Here in Vermont, a community that is very much committed to being “green,” I hope to use this encyclical to engage the Catholic community in dialogue and conversation around the issues Pope Francis has raised. At this point it is a bit too early to say what concrete measures will follow. That is the whole purpose of dialogue. I will take my lead from that consultation with my fellow Catholics and hopefully then begin to engage the wider community of Vermont. The publication of this letter is a start to what is obviously a long-term project. As Pope Francis himself writes: “the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all…. We require a new and universal solidarity.” In that spirit, let us prayerfully respond to Francis’ call for a change of hearts and try our best to live rightly within the world we’ve been given and with each other.