The pope’s highly anticipated encyclical on “human ecology” is set to be published shortly. The rumors are that its release date is being planned so as to ensure circulation and study in advance of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference being held in Paris toward the end of the year. To do so effectively, it should be out within a week or two of this writing. With the pope’s approval rating still skyrocketing, the political and economic consequences of his thoughts on the matter whether in writing or in numerous planned speeches in Latin America and the United States are expected to be enormous. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and theologian Leonardo Boff are both known to have given the pope insights during the drafting of the encyclical and of his public comments on ecology.
This week a number of Vatican voices have confirmed the text’s title as Laudato Sii (“Praise Be To You”). As soon as it was mentioned, I laughingly forwarded this information to some friends because there is a running joke among some of us as to how often we sing the Italian hymn by that title at Mass here in Rome.
Laudato Sii is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” in which he praises nature: “for the water, for the winds, for the flames, for all your creatures…Praise be to you. For Brother Sun and Sister Moon…Praise be to you.” It is speculated that Francis composed the hymn late in life, while actually physically blind to the beauty that surrounded him. An allusion to “Sister Death” was added as his life drew to a close.
Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI repeatedly spoke and wrote about the importance of dutiful stewardship in terms of creation and ecology. As the first successor to Peter from the New World, it is likely that Pope Francis will develop these perspectives by bringing to them his own personal and spiritual formation, and unique autobiography. It is virtually certain, for instance, that the current Holy Father will link the vocation to care for nature and the environment with concerns of exploitation of the poor in direct and nuanced ways.
Since Francis’s first encyclical Lumen Fidei was (even by his own admission) largely drafted by Pope Benedict before his resignation, the coming document will undoubtedly be a watershed moment for this pontificate, as an encyclical is of a higher magisterial authority than his other writings such as Evangelii Gaudium and Misericordiae Vultus.
Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), Rome.