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Bishop Sullivan’s message: “The Holy Father’s challenge to us”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has written an encyclical letter titled, Laudato Si’. I asked Michael Jordan Laskey, who directs our diocesan office of Life and Justice Ministries, to write a reflection on the papal letter.

Michael identifies five themes that are found in the encyclical. I suggest you read his column, an excellent reflection.

An encyclical is a teaching letter from the Pope who writes as a spiritual and moral guide, not as a politician or scientist. The topic of Laudato Si’ is “our common home,” our world, which “is falling into serious disrepair.” Those who live and enjoy the shore communities in our diocese are very aware of the “disrepair” humans have caused the Atlantic Ocean. As I travel around the diocese, I pass by rivers, lakes and ponds whose filthy conditions are disgusting.This is the cover of the English edition of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." The long-anticipated encyclical was released at the Vatican June 18. (CNS photo/courtesy U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) See stories slugged ENCYCLICAL- June 18, 2015.

The Holy Father challenges us “to protect our common home and to work together in building our common home.” Who could disagree with that challenge? The Pope invites “every person to enter into dialogue about our planet.” Pope Francis repeats Catholic teaching that has come to us through the recent Pontiffs, Saint John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The encyclical is about facing what humans have caused and continue to cause to our environment. The Holy Father calls for international action and personal action. International action is the work of world leaders and governments. Personal action means that each one of us can respond with concern for and with practical deeds on behalf of our world. Do we observe the recycling standards? What about litter? Wasting water by allowing it to run endlessly? Our use of paper, styrofoam? We are both victims and at times proponents of a throwaway culture of waste. There are many more very practical suggestions that each one of us can put into action in our homes, work places, school and communities.

Identifying such concerns as the poor, the common good, work, our children and grandchildren, and consumerism, Pope Francis suggests an approach called “integral ecology” as a possible plan of action or approach for this issue. “We are faced 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.” Francis also reiterates the opposition of the church to abortion and embryonic stem cell research, calling for the protection of human life and the enhancement of its God-given dignity.

Let us prayerfully respond to Pope Francis’ call for a change of hearts. This encyclical is receiving much attention from commentators and public figures. Let us remember that the Holy Father is concerned about the moral dimensions of the complex issues about which he writes. He summons us to renew our relations with the created world, with one another and with God the Creator.

Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan