by Christopher Rice | May 5, 2022 | Blog, Laudato Si' Week, News and Updates, Pope Francis
The best Laudato Si’ summary? There are plenty of options.
But to be clear, the best way to fully understand Laudato Si’ and Pope Francis’ teachings isn’t by reading a Laudato Si’ summary; it’s by reading and studying the 184-page encyclical letter. To truly grasp Pope Francis’ messages, you’ll need to read Laudato Si’ more than once.
But it also can be helpful to review a Laudato Si’ summary from time to time and remind yourself how Pope Francis, relying on thousands of years of Catholic teaching, calls on all of us to live out our faith by caring for our common home.
Below, Laudato Si’ Movement has compiled a handful of helpful Laudato Si’ summaries that, when put into action, will help you bring Pope Francis’ encyclical to life in your community.
We’re also sharing our own Laudato Si’ summary about what is Laudato Si’, why this encyclical is so important, and how we can bring Laudato Si’ to life.
Laudato Si’ summary – What is Laudato Si’?
Laudato Si’ is an encyclical of Pope Francis published in May 2015. It focuses on care for the natural environment and all people, as well as broader questions of the relationship between God, humans, and the Earth. The encyclical’s subtitle, “Care for Our Common Home,” reinforces these key themes.
An encyclical is a public letter from the Pope developing Catholic teaching on a topic often in light of current events. Laudato Si’ is addressed to “every living person on this planet” (LS 3). Hence, it is offered as part of an ongoing dialogue within the Catholic Church and between Catholics and the wider world.
What does Laudato Si’ mean?
The title of an encyclical is typically drawn from the first words of the document. That is, encyclicals do not receive a topical title, but are instead named by their opening phrase, often one suggestive of a major theme of the work.
The first words of Laudato Si’ are Italian and translate as “praise be to you.” They are part of a quotation from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures” that opens the encyclical in which the saint praises God by meditating on the goodness of sun, wind, Earth, water, and other natural forces.
The choice of this passage to begin Laudato Si’ is a reminder of how people of faith should not only respect the Earth but also praise and honor God through their engagement with creation.
Laudato Si’ summary: What are the main sections of Laudato Si’?
Laudato Si’ is divided into six chapters, each of which can be read in a sitting of 20 to 30 minutes.
“Chapter One: What is Happening to Our Common Home” summarizes the scope of current problems related to the environment. Issues discussed include pollution, climate change, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, and global inequality.
“Chapter Two: The Gospel of Creation” draws on the Bible as a source of insight. The Genesis creation stories are interpreted as enjoining responsible cultivation and protection of nature. Past attempts to justify the absolute human domination of other species are “not a correct interpretation of the Bible” (LS 67). The natural world is further portrayed as a gift, a message, and a common inheritance of all people.
“Chapter Three: The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis” explores social trends and ideologies that have caused environmental problems. These include the unreflective use of technology, an impulse to manipulate and control nature, a view of humans as separate from the environment, narrowly-focused economic theories, and moral relativism.
“Chapter Four: Integral Ecology” presents the encyclical’s main solution to ongoing social and environmental problems. Integral ecology affirms that humans are part of a broader world and calls for “comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems” (LS 139). While the study of ecosystems has become well-known in the science of ecology, integral ecology expands this paradigm to consider the ethical and spiritual dimensions of how humans are meant to relate to each other and the natural world – drawing on culture, family, community, virtue, religion, and respect for the common good.
“Chapter Five: Lines of Approach and Action” applies the concept of integral ecology to political life. It calls for international agreements to protect the environment and assist low-income countries, new national and local policies, inclusive and transparent decision-making, and an economy ordered to the good of all.
Lastly, “Chapter Six: Ecological Education and Spirituality” concludes the encyclical with applications to personal life. It recommends a lifestyle focused less on consumerism and more on timeless, enduring values. It calls for environmental education, joy in one’s surroundings, civic love, reception of the sacraments, and an “ecological conversion” in which an encounter with Jesus leads to deeper communion with God, other people, and the world of nature.
How does Laudato Si’ relate to past Catholic teaching?
Pope Francis is not the first pope to address environmental issues. Pope St. John Paul II taught on numerous occasions about a duty of stewardship toward nature. For example, in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II wrote about nature as a gift from God and the need for humans to cooperate with God in promoting the rightly ordered flourishing of the environment (CA 37). Further, Centesimus Annus outlined a connection between natural ecology and “human ecology” (CA 38), anticipating the concept of integral ecology in Laudato Si’. Pope Benedict echoed these same teachings during his papacy, for example, in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (see CV 48-52).
As outlined in Laudato Si’, its vision of an integrated approach to concern for all people and the environment has roots in Scripture and the history of Catholic thought, in particular in the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, tracing back to the late 19th century. Further, Catholic scholars and activists have been outspoken on the connection between social and environmental issues for many years.
What is unique about Laudato Si’ is how Pope Francis develops and expands on these themes at length in a highly prominent way, devoting an entire encyclical to the topic at a time when the wider world is also becoming actively engaged in the pursuit of environmental sustainability.
What does Laudato Si’ say about climate change?
Climate change is one of the most prominent topics associated with Laudato Si’, both because the encyclical speaks in detail about the moral imperative to address it and because the threat of the climate crisis has grown only more severe since the encyclical’s publication.
Laudato Si’ affirms the “very solid scientific consensus” that climate change is occurring as well as the evidence that human activity is the primary driver of this warming (LS 23). Climate change is “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (LS 25).
Further, the encyclical stresses that existing efforts to reduce climate change have been deeply inadequate. This is because “many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms” (LS 26).
In turn, several ways to address the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis are outlined. These include a drastic reduction in carbon emissions and those of other greenhouse gases, the development of renewable energy sources and related storage capacity, and a transition to energy efficient methods of production and transportation (LS 26). For example, a switch from coal and oil to solar and wind power would embody these recommendations. The increased protection of tropical forests is also discussed (LS 38-39).
What does Laudato Si’ say about the poor?
One key theme of Laudato Si’ is that efforts to reduce climate change and help people in poverty should not be pitted against each other, but instead pursued as a unified project.
It would be wrong to cut emissions in a way that harms the marginalized in society or places an unmanageable burden on very poor countries. As the encyclical states, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (LS 139).
Low-income countries are expected to suffer the worst effects of climate change and need financial assistance in making the transition to sustainable practices (LS 25). Accordingly, there is a duty for rich countries to take the lead in reducing their own emissions and in providing funds to developing countries seeking to do the same (LS 170-173). Laudato Si’ also notes how climate change will cause a rise in the number of migrants leaving homes destroyed by environmental degradation and calls on people to welcome and support these environmental refugees (LS 25).
What is Laudato Si’ asking people to do?
Chapter six of Laudato Si’ outlines steps a person can take in the process of ecological conversion. These include prayer and contemplation, learning more about nature, observance of the Sabbath day of rest, and reduced participation in materialistic forms of consumer culture. A step as simple as giving thanks at mealtime (LS 227) can be a reminder of integral ecology and an individual’s relation to God, nature, and other people.
Most Catholics have positive memories and experiences of nature but may not have connected these with their faith, so the advice in this section can be helpful in linking spirituality with environmental awareness.
In addition, Laudato Si’ is clear that many environmental problems extend beyond individuals to broader economic and political systems. This is a fact that can be challenging to think about.
Even if every reader of the encyclical became environmentally engaged in their personal mindset and lifestyle, this would not be enough to stop problems like the climate crisis and pollution. That is because the main decisions impacting the availability of renewable energy and sustainable practices are not made by individuals, but by governments and large corporations.
Accordingly, it is important for people of faith to get involved in politics and work strategically for positive change. Some of this can happen at the local level through the formation of renewable energy cooperatives and similar initiatives (LS 179). Other work can be done through non-governmental advocacy groups, such as the Laudato Si’ Movement. In addition, the encyclical calls on Catholics to enter the arena of national and international politics, pushing back against the incentive for leaders to prioritize short-term gains and instead advocating for policies that support the disadvantaged and advance the long-term common good (LS 178).
What does Laudato Si’ predict for the future?
Laudato Si’ describes a wide spectrum of possibilities for the coming century. It is bracing in its discussion of the threats facing humans and the environment.
Many of the problems surveyed would have been much easier to address 30 or 40 years ago and are now already causing widespread harm. However, the encyclical also offers hope – both in specific policies it recommends and in its promise of integral ecology a new, more fulfilling outlook on politics, the economy, and everyday life.
As the encyclical states, “All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning” (LS 205).
For this reason, “although the post-industrial period [of the last few decades] may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities” (LS 165). We can also consider that ecological conversion is not a purely human process, but an encounter with God leading to a grace-filled change of heart and mind. It is this kind of experience which Laudato Si’ recommends as a way for people of faith to begin moving toward a better and more caring world.
How to get involved and more about what is Laudato Si’
More Laudato Si’ summaries:
Christopher Rice is an associate professor of philosophy at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, USA. His academic interests include human well-being, environmental ethics, and Catholic Social Teaching.