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The environment is your friend

On June 18, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’: On care for our common home. It is a watershed document in the same sense as the famed, Of things new (Rerum Novarum), by Pope Leo XIII, when he became the first pope to address the condition of labour in 1891.

Laudato Si’ is the first papal document to comprehensively address the pressing duty of human beings towards the entire creation, including the environment, and the finely balanced ecology of the Earth.

The pope is also urging people of all faiths and none to properly fulfill their responsibility and duty towards creation and to treat it as their friend.

The encyclical can also be seen as a development of the thoughts proposed by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Love and Truth (Caritas in Veritate) in 2009, where he stressed “the obligations which flow from man’s relationship with the natural environment” and the issues “marked by solidarity and inter-generational justice.”

But Pope Francis has gone into far greater detail and combined care for the environment with the social development of humankind.

Laudato Si’ also proposes a reexamination of life in our big cities. The encyclical especially draws our attention to what Pope Francis calls an extreme consumerism and an excessive anthropocentrism, which he describes as mentalities favoured by modern people, but self-centred and predicated on amassing personal power.

These mentalities have already taken root in the lives of modern people and are progressively creeping into Church life as well.

At over 100 pages, it is the longest encyclical ever penned by a pope, but it does take real life as the point of departure and leads us towards a comprehensible way in which to face the unprecedented situation of our modern world.

Pope Francis reminds us that the things that wealthy countries enjoy have in many senses been seized from people in the poorer world. He points out that this excessive anthropocentrism lies at the source of the current crisis.

It is worth noting that the pope suggests concrete, feasible ways to eliminate this integral ecological crisis through education and spirituality. Since ancient times, life education could not be detached from the practice of spirituality, or what Chinese people call the virtues of “self-cultivation, bringing harmony to the family, order to the country and peace to the world.”

These are practical virtues for today and the begin with the rectification of our personal habits. This is a long road which demands extraordinary perseverance to reach the end.

Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness, an organisation committed to the ecology and preservation of the natural world in the Hong Kong diocese, held a seminar recently introducing the encyclical.

Catholic and Anglican speakers shared how both Churches are addressing the current challenges posed by changing climatic conditions. Hong Kong diocese is setting up a task force to examine how to respond to the encyclical.

To promote and live the challenges of the encyclical, parishes, schools, families and individuals must be involved. What is passed onto our children is vital.


The pursuit of a life marked by moderation should begin in our parishes, faith groups and the daily lives of each and every person. SE