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Franciscans Welcome ‘Laudato Si”

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The release of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” on June 18 energized the friars of Holy Name Province through the pope’s call for immediate, inclusive dialogue and action to address the related challenges of poverty and global climate change.

As many media organizations have mentioned, and the pope himself explained in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’” or “Praised Be,” is drawn from a prayer attributed to the friars’ founder, St. Francis of Assisi, which praises God as He is witnessed through creation. While the prayer can be seen as a romantic portrayal of creation, it reminds people that the environment and humanity, as a special element of the ecosystem, are inherently intertwined.

In a news release, Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, said, “Pope Francis’ analysis of the current world situation, one marked by great poverty and inequality, and global climate change, gives us a great deal to think about and a way to focus the friars’ work. As a Franciscan, I am energized by his use of St. Francis as a model for all of us to follow. The encyclical has put me and my fellow Franciscans on special notice. It compels us to take the pope’s message to heart. What an incredible gift from our Holy Father.”

He continued, “The call to dialogue and action gives renewed encouragement for the many initiatives being carried out in the ministries of Holy Name Province in support of the poor and the environment. Our ministries do a lot of good work. This call just highlights the importance of this particular focus and, hopefully, will inspire our friars and partners-in-ministry with whom we serve to do even more.”

“The Franciscans have a long history of standing with those most in need and today that includes those who suffer the consequences of environmental degradation and the destruction of God’s creation,” according to a June 18 post on the blog of Holy Name Province’s Office of Development. The post lists six of the most serious challenges facing “our common home.”

A Franciscan Perspective
The day before the encyclical was released, George Corrigan, OFM, took to the airways in Tampa, Fla., for an interview on Spirit FM 90.5, Tampa Bay’s hit Christian music station. He explained the meaning of the word encyclical to the hosts of “The Big Big House Morning Show,” and described the connection between the encyclical’s title and St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures.”

When speculating what perspective the encyclical might contain, George said, “I think you’ll find the focus is not on the science of climate change, but the way we consider and make choices. We consume goods and consume energy, but not necessarily in a mindful way. We make these choices every day in life, but do we make them in a mindful way, keeping in mind concern for the consequences?”

Soon after the encyclical was released, Daniel Horan, OFM, wrote a column for America magazine, “The Franciscan Character of ‘Laudato Si’,” highlighting the connection between the document and the Franciscan charism.

“From among the many Franciscan themes that arise in ‘Laudato Si’,’ at least three are worth highlight from the onset: leaving behind ‘naïve romanticism,’ recognizing the inherent value of all creation, and seeing the connection between abject poverty and environmental degradation,” Daniel wrote.

He added, “For Francis of Assisi, radical lifestyle change was required to authentically follow the Gospel. Embracing evangelical poverty as a means of protest against social injustices and a means toward closer solidarity led him among the poor and outcast of his day. Concurrently, his renunciation of the power systems of his society allowed him to — like St. Bonaventure — see God in all things and become a nature mystic. Today, we too are called to change our lives to follow the poor man of Assisi who has so inspired the present bishop of Rome to teach us with such authority and clarity rarely seen before.”

Most encyclicals “end up sitting on a shelf,” according to Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. In an interview with InsideClimate News, Carolan pointed out that while Church leaders and theologians may talk about encyclicals, they rarely get the attention of the wider world.

This document, of course, is different. “I’ve never seen a buzz [like this] around an encyclical my whole life,” said Carolan, who pointed out that interest is coming from “people of all faiths and environmental groups.”

The Franciscan Action Network is collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club to organize webinars and other educational opportunities to bring the pope’s message to mainstream environmental groups.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., was also interviewed by InsideClimate News. He affirmed that the encyclical would allow St. Camillus parishioners to “continue to challenge ourselves” on sustainability and climate action.

Jacek, who is chair of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate, also mentioned that St. Camillus Parish has been involved in many initiatives that engage environmental justice as a moral issue. Parishioners have participated in rallies against mineral mining in El Salvador, and several, including Jacek, were arrested in an anti-Keystone XL pipeline sit-in before the White House.

Roughly half of the parishioners at St. Camillus are Latino, and there is also a sizeable community from Bangladesh, one of the countries that will be affected by rising sea levels.

In Raleigh, N.C., David McBriar, OFM, spoke on WRAL-TV about the pope’s words being not only about a relationship with the environment but about starting a conversation on becoming a better society.

Turning to an ‘Integral Ecology’
The discussion and use of the encyclical “will play a significant role in the planning and work of Holy Name Province and the ministries that it serves,” according to Russ Testa, director of the Province’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

In last week’s news release, the Province sited Pope Francis’s words from paragraph 48 of the encyclical: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.”

Throughout the encyclical, the pope analyzes the cause of this deterioration. The root of the decline, according to Pope Francis, is the disordered way that people hold technology, consumption and individualism as guiding principles. While these things are not inherently harmful, when they are lived in an unbalanced way, they lead to destruction.

The pope’s solution is to turn to an “integral ecology” that makes clear “the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts.” Solutions must be based on “a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”

Resources about the encyclical are available from the Province’s JPIC office, through Russ Testa at jpic@hnp.org. Information about climate change and care for creation can be found in the Justice and Peace section of the HNP website.

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.