‘Care for Our Common Home’ connects Catholic faith, science

April 12, 2016

HOUSTON ― For all the attention Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato Si,’” on Care for Our Common Home” has gained, little has been made of the connection among Catholic tradition, the natural world and science that the document addresses.

Technology, creation and theology are key components of the encyclical, the most recent document in the evolutionary line of Catholic social teaching dating to several popes, according to Sister Damien Marie Savino, FSE.

Laudato Si, in one sense, is a ground breaking document as Francis is the first pope to directly address the environment, but at the same time the message is in continuity with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, said Sister Savino, chair of the environmental science and studies at the University of St. Thomas. 

“Pope Francis has a continuity with care for human and non-human life,” she said. “He puts forth a very consistent life ethic that is both pro-life and pro-environment. It’s a whole package: I am fully pro-life because every life is a gift from God the Creator and I am also pro-environment, I realize the obligation I have to care for the resources that have been given to me so that those after me have as much as I’ve had and more.” 

Julie Fritsch, director of the Archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, said the recognition of fundamental dignity of the human person includes living in an environment that is healthy. 

“Because the environment is God’s creation and that we are also God’s creation, we must recognize our proper place, understanding the wrongs of taking life, including your own, someone else’s and of the environment.” 

Fritsch finds that being merciful, especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, is about recognizing the dignity of a person and beings like the environment. 

“There is an interconnectedness among us all, which is a major pillar in Catholic social teaching,” Fritsch said. “Pro-life teachings are social teaching issues.” Helping developing countries to not be exploited runs parallel to the abortion industry’s exploitation of women and euthanasia’s exploitation with burdens of the dying and ill, she said.

Sister Savino said the idea for care for creation flows of that sense of mercy: “God has been merciful to us, and our mission is to extend that mercy to the whole world so we are merciful stewards of creation.”

Both issues of life and environment are often polarized, she said, but the Catholic faith tradition has all the resources to put the two together, as highlighted in the encyclical’s “beautiful holistic vision” of caring for the human and non-human world. 

“Sometimes in the media it’s portrayed that suddenly the Catholic Church is interested in the environment,” the Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist said. “But we actually have a long tradition of caring for creation, going back to the Patristic Fathers in the first centuries of the Church - even they were interested in creation.” 

At the School of Environmental Education in Plantersville, Director Shayne Rodrigues works to help young people realize the responsibility to be good stewards of creation entrusted by God. Educating the youth through tangible and concrete experiences helps students make connections between actions and consequences, especially regarding care for creation, he said. 

The wooded campus offers young people outdoor experiences, education and an environment of prayer in the beauty of God’s creation. 
Caring for the environment is “a group effort,” Rodrigues said. “We are all called to this effort in some way or form.”

Sister Savino agreed. 

“What way can each individual use a little less?” she said. “Sacrifice a little more? Do something for someone that doesn’t have enough? Or give something from excess or do more sharing?” 

“We can’t completely change everything right away, but growing in virtue you take small steps. These small acts of kindness, mercy and sacrifice, even when simple, are one pocket of good, which will help another. A million pockets of good will help a million more.”